Haze may return as hot spots increase

A woman wearing a face mask rides a bicycle in a haze hit Dumai, in Indonesia's Riau province June 21, 2013.

SINGAPORE - Keep those N95 masks handy. The haze which choked Singapore last month could be making a comeback.

The number of forest-fire hot spots in Sumatra rose sharply at the weekend, the National Environment Agency (NEA) warned in an advisory on Sunday.

Satellite readings showed that there were 159 hot spots as of Saturday. Of these, 63 were in Riau province, central Sumatra, about 280km from Singapore.

By Sunday evening, the hot-spot count for the whole of Sumatra reached 261, as hazy skies returned to Dumai - the town in Riau at the epicentre of the recent haze. Visibility on the streets was down to under 200m, and residents expected the haze to worsen on Monday.

Singapore is enjoying clear skies for now, as prevailing southerly and south-easterly winds mean smoke from the fires is not being blown here, the NEA said. But it added that some areas in Peninsular Malaysia had already been affected.

Bukit Rambai in Malacca recorded an Air Pollutant Index (API) reading of 117 at 10pm on Sunday, in the unhealthy range.

Malaysia's API and Singapore's Pollutant Standards Index (PSI) are closely related, and any reading above 100 is considered unhealthy.

Dry weather conditions in Sumatra are expected to persist over the next day or two, the NEA said. It added: "Should there be a change in the wind direction to blow from the west, Singapore may then experience hazy conditions."

As of 11pm on Sunday, the 24-hour PSI was between 22 and 31, in the good range. The NEA said it would provide further alerts if it becomes more likely that hazy conditions will return.

Meanwhile, Second Minister for the Environment and Water Resources Grace Fu told reporters on Sunday that Singapore would like to see more being done to educate Indonesian farmers not to start the fires.

Speaking on the sidelines of a community event in Jurong, she said: "I am glad that life can be normal again, but we shouldn't take it for granted."

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