KUCHING: Southern Sarawak is once again blanketed by thick haze after about a week of relatively clear sky.
The air pollution index (API) for Samarahan, 10km from here, was an unhealthy 102 at 2pm yesterday.
In the city centre, the API was 87 in the morning but visibility plummeted to 1.5km by noon.
As the day wore on, the API in Sri Aman – the worst affected by haze in the country last month when the API reached 129 – hovered in the high 80s.
Only Miri escaped – it had an API of 34.
According to the Asean Specialised Meteorological Centre, much of Kalimantan and Sumatra continued to be shrouded in moderate to dense haze.
It said its satellites detected 124 hotspots in Kalimantan on Monday. On Sept 4, there were 399 hotspots.
The Singapore-based centre elevated Sumatra's forest fires to Level Three – the most severe – last week after 222 and 380 hotspots were detected on Aug 31 and Sept 1, respectively.
Kalimantan is at Level Two, for exceeding 150 hotspots over two consecutive days.
In its September regional weather and haze review, which was released yesterday, it warned that El Nino conditions were increasingly likely in the coming months.
It said drier-than-normal conditions could be expected, particularly in the southern and eastern parts of South-East Asia.
Forest fires in central Sarawak have been confirmed by the Natural Resources and Environmental Board (NREB).
On Sunday, huge plumes of smoke were sighted along the Bintulu-Bakun road, about 50km from the dam.
An early report said the fires were likely started by longhouse dwellers for hill padi planting.
Sarawak NREB controller Peter Sawal said warnings were issued.
Asked if the residents could face fines, he explained that subsistence farming activities, including open burning, on native customary rights land “were not regulated by law”.
“The area was about 2km from the longhouse. Heavy rain doused the fires. There were no more fires when we visited,” he said.
The NREB has cancelled all open burning permits since the dry weather began.
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