More bush fires in Malaysia due to heat wave

KUALA LUMPUR - The heat wave engulfing the country has not only left Malaysians running for the shade, but also hinted at more severe consequences in store.

The dry spell has triggered a series of bush fires nationwide, keeping emergency services personnel busy around the clock.

The lack of rain has also raised concerns over depleting water levels in dams, such as Negri Sembilan's Kelinchi dam, which had almost reached critical level.

Bush fires sparked by the hot spell are on the rise, with 312 cases reported nationwide in just 24 hours since Monday.

Selangor recorded the highest number of bush fires with 79 cases followed by Perak with 70, between Monday and yesterday.

An official from the Fire and Rescue Department operations centre said the spike began on Jan 28, when they recorded 139 cases nationwide.

"This was a dramatic rise from Jan 26, which had only 100 cases. On regular days, we record fewer than 100 cases daily.

He said all states had increased the number of personnel on duty to cope with the problem.

Selangor Fire and Rescue Department operations assistant director Mohamad Sani Harul said the total number of cases from Feb 1 to Feb 9 had surpassed last month's figures.

Checks also showed that the weather had resulted in deteriorating air quality in several states.

As of 6pm yesterday, Muar, Johor topped the air pollutant index chart with a reading of 68, followed by Banting, Selangor and Bakar Arang, Kedah with 66.

In Butterworth, the prolonged hot spell in the state had triggered 700 bush fires in the past three months.

Penang Fire and Rescue Department director Azmi Tamat said the number of bush fires had escalated and the department expected the drought to continue throughout this month.

He said firemen also had a tough time tackling open fires due to some sites which are geographically isolated, such as the blaze in Bukit Gambir early yesterday.

In Ipoh, the drought has taken its toll on the forested area in northern Perak with fire raging through a section of the green canopy near Banding Lake, at the Royal Belum border.

Perak Fire and Rescue Department assistant director in charge of operations Wan Azmi Ahmad said their personnel encountered difficulties reaching the area due to the terrain.

"As of now, I was told that the team are using boats to cross the large lake. From there they will have to hike to the affected area to assess the situation."

Despite being the wettest town in Malaysia, Taiping has not been spared water woes since the dry spell began.

"Taiping has been experiencing low pressure since Chinese New Year," said Perak Water Board general manager Datuk Mohd Yusof Mohd Isa.

He said the board had been sending water tankers to Taiping to resolve the situation.

Yusof also advised Perak's 2.4 million population to use water sparingly as the drought season was expected to continue until next month.

In Kuantan, firefighters were kept busy battling a peat fire at an oil palm plantation near the Endau-Rompin Forest Reserve in Rompin.

State Fire and Rescue Department director Datuk Abdul Wahab Mat Yassin said firefighters from Rompin and Kuantan would ensure that the fire does not spread into the forest reserve and destroy the rich fauna and flora there.

"We believe that the fire could have caused by open burning."