Rains help douse Sabah forest fires

KOTA KINABALU: After burning for weeks, the fires in the Binsuluk Forest Reserve and the Trusmadi Forest Reserve have finally been put out, thanks to the annual inter-monsoon rains.

The rains – though far less than in previous years – over the weekend put out the fires at the two forest reserves in Beaufort and interior Keningau, lifting the haze that had been plaguing the areas.

However, more rain is needed to bring back the traditional water sources from wells and streams.

“Most areas in Sabah have received rains with the setting in of the inter-monsoon over the weekend. We expect rains to continue until the end of this week,” said Sabah Meteorological acting director Lim Ze Hui in an interview.

However, he warned that the El Nino was still an influencing factor over the amount of rain that the state would receive in the coming days.

“The El Nino is at its weakening stage but it will be the cause of less rainfall in April and May until its impact is neutralised in June,” he said, adding that isolated rains and scattered thunderstorms could be expected within the week in all areas of Sabah and Labuan.

At the peat swamp fire in Binsuluk Forest Reserve, the firemen finally wound down their operations on Sunday.

The fire, which had been burning since March 29, destroyed nearly 70% of the 12,000ha swamp forest reserve.

Sabah Fire and Rescue Services Department deputy director Khairul Azuwan Ibrahim said most of the blaze had been put out but local teams would keep a close eye on any remaining underground fires.

The fire in the Trumadi forest reserve area, which started about a week ago, has already been doused by the rains although mopping-up operations will continue with the Forestry Department personnel.

“Aerial surveys to check over the forest area are also being carried out,” Khairul said.

Deputy Chief Minister Datuk Seri Yahya Hussin visited interior Keningau to assess the damage, which saw large tracts of vegetable farms, orchards and oil palm plantations destroyed by fires or due to the lack of water.

Yahya said the state government was currently assessing the damage and would take the necessary steps to help the farmers.