By Nancy Nais
KUCHING, Aug 12: Firefighters in Sarawak have begun their yearly battle fighting against open burning.
Every year, especially during the prolonged dry and hot weather, the same issue crops up over and over again.
To make matters worse, Sarawak not only gets local haze but transboundary haze as well due to hotspots detected over in Kalimantan, Indonesia.
In preparation for any eventuality, Sarawak Fire and Rescue Department (Bomba) director Khirudin Drahman said all seven zone and 34 fire station chiefs in the state have received the latest instruction to go on the ground to conduct daily patrols, checks, engagement, and advocacy.
“Since Aug 1, we have received 42 cases of bush fires, with the highest number from Miri (13), Kuching (11), Bintulu (5), Samarahan (4) Mukah (3), Sibu (3), and Sarikei (1).
“The expected wind direction from the Southwest for the next few days will affect the air quality in certain parts of Sarawak and if no action is taken to control open burning, the risk of haze will be high due to local open burning and cross-border from Kalimantan. Not only do we get local haze, but imported haze as well.
“It is very frustrating that haze occurs every year, especially during this dry and hot weather. Apart from the cross-border haze, we have culprits or irresponsible parties who conduct open burning, despite being told not to do so,” Khirudin told reporters after handing over fire certificates to several building premises in Kuching.
Pleading with the public not to engage in open burning activities at this time, Khirudin pointed out that due to the current dry weather conditions with a small amount of rain, any open burning will increase the number of hot spots and may cause haze.
The department will deploy its Bomba Komuniti and volunteer firefighters team to monitor their local areas especially those in the rural and far-flung areas from the nearest fire station.
Khirudin spoke out on the harmful slash and burn technique employed by local farmers.
“Take the example of last year’s major forest and peat fire in Kampung STC and Kejatau, Lingga in Sri Aman. A total of 67 firefighters were deployed. They firefighters struggled for 10 days, 24 hours non stop and had a tough time because every time we extinguish the fire, they burn it back.
“Yes, we understand the local farmers’ technique of slash and burn is faster and cheaper, but I also hope and appeal for their understanding of why we ask them to stop or reduce open burning during this time (dry season).
“They were also complaints, ‘if you stop us from burning, then how do we continue to farm? We need to plant to earn income, etc,” Khirudin said, adding that it is a sensitive issue.
The forest and peat fire destroyed a total of 610 acres of land at Kejatau, Lingga and 133 acres of land at STC.
Bomba Sarawak also deployed its MI-171 helicopter for the fire fighting operations, and assisted by Bombardier CL 415 MP aircraft belonging to the Maritime Enforcement Agency (MMEA).
This year, Khirudin said that during the recent meeting with the State Disaster Management Committee (SDMC), Residents from all districts were told to analyse and study the current standard operating procedures (SOP) in assisting other agencies especially Bomba in the event of bush, peat or forest fires.
On Aug 8, satellite images from Asean Specialized Meteorological Center (ASMC) showed a significant increase in the number of 185 hotspots in southern and western Kalimantan, while Sarawak recorded 37 hotspots.
Due to close proximity to Kalimantan, the situation is further exacerbated by winds blowing smoke from hotspots in the area over to Sarawak.
Meanwhile, Radio Emergency Drone Sarawak (REDS) led by its president Captain Zainuddin Hamdan Sirat made a courtesy call to Khirudin yesterday to discuss corporation and collaboration in managing disaster and emergency.
Khirudin was recently appointed as REDS advisory board member.
“REDS has been helping Bomba Sarawak in a few search and rescue (SAR) cases by rendering their assistance in radio communication and drone aerial support. We will complement it with our SOP to upgrade our capabilities.
“We are truly thankful for this. It is a community responsibility. This also shows that our communities care and willing to work hand in hand with Bomba,” he added.
Khirudin pointed out that REDS had three radio repeaters – one each in Kuching, Serian and Mukah.
Any state agency can utilise or use its repeater for emergency radio communication purposes where cellular coverage is not available and REDS can also install a VHF mobile radio repeater at ground zero during emergencies.—DayakDaily