Singapore team returns from fighting haze-causing fires in Indonesia

SINGAPORE - The Singapore team deployed to help put out forest fires in Sumatra has returned after a two-week operation, the Singapore Civil Defence Force (SCDF) said in a statement today.

They were received at Paya Lebar Air Base at about 3.30pm by SCDF Commissioner Eric Yap.

The team, comprising personnel from the SCDF and Singapore Armed Forces (SAF), left for Palembang on Oct 10. The SAF sent a Chinook equipped with a 5,000-litre heli bucket and two C-130 transport planes.

"The team operated under challenging conditions, with thick smoke and poor visibility. This deployment has validated the SCDF's operational readiness and preparedness. The experience gained will be invaluable for any future operations," the SCDF said.

Defence Minister Dr Ng Eng Hen posted a note of appreciation for the team on his Facebook page today.

"This is the worst haze situation to affect this region in a decade. Our deepest thanks to our men and women who overcame difficult conditions on this mission to put out hotspots and help the surrounding villages," he wrote.

He added that the Indonesian leaders have realised that prevention and enforcement are key in preventing this "environmental disaster" from recurring.

He also applauded the ideas and initiatives by Indonesian president Joko Widodo, who suggested pre-constructed irrigation tunnels that can flood the peatlands when needed.

"The industrial scale of this disaster - millions of hectares burning - requires a systemic, deliberate and multi-prong response to be effective. There is no shortage of expertise, both regional and international - that can be brought to bear on how to prevent or put out such fires, if requested," Dr Ng wrote.

Apart from Singapore, Australia, China, Malaysia, and Russia have stepped up to help Indonesia douse the fires responsible for the choking haze across the region. Yesterday, the haze spread to southern and central Philippines, about a week after it reached the country.

In Singapore, the 24-hour Pollutants Standard Index (PSI) remained in the very unhealthy range for most of today since 4am. At 9pm, the 24-hour PSI dropped to the unhealthy range at 159-198, down from the 8pm reading of 163-203. The three-hour PSI as of 9pm was 127.

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