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More aerial water bombings at peat swamp fires


KOTA KINABALU: Firemen are intensifying their aerial water bombings at a major peat swamp fire at the Binsuluk Forest Reserve after attempts at cloud seeding failed to bring enough rainfall.

The underground fire has been raging since March 29, triggering severe unhealthy haze conditions earlier this week in the south western Beaufort district.

Over 100 firemen – some from neighbouring Labuan and Sarawak and with the aid of forestry personnel – have been fighting to put it out.

“The rains (from cloud seeding) was not enough to put it off. We will carry out more aerial water bombings at two hot spots at the centre of the forest as we cannot reach the area,” Sabah Fire and Rescue Services Department deputy director Khairul Azuwan Ibrahim said yesterday.

He said apart from aerial bombing, forestry personnel were cutting a route into the two hotspots for firemen to enter the area while volunteers were also cleaning drains to provide sources for water to douse the fires.

More than 200ha of the 12,000ha forest reserve area have been destroyed.

The Binsuluk peat swamp forest had lost nearly 8,000ha in the 1997 El Nino dry spell and there was only about 4,000ha left which foresters say have more or less been wiped out.

Meanwhile, Khairul said that another fire in Bongowan area was already put out late on Thursday and they were now focusing on the Binsuluk fires.

Asked how the firemen were coping with working around the clock, Khairul said: “The morale of our men is good; we don’t know how long it will take to put it out completely. It is our duty to the public.”

The haze situation in south western Beaufort which reached a very unhealthy Air Pollutant Index (API) of 300 late Sunday has imrproved with readings below 100 API over the last three days.

On Thursday, the Royal Malaysian Air Force carried out cloud seeding over Beaufort, Kuala Penyu, Membakut and Penampang, which saw about 30-minutes of rainfall in interior Sabah and Sipitang.

In Kota Kinabalu, the air quality saw an improvement yesterday with levels below 50 API.

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