DOE: Increased incidence of fires due to hot weather

PETALING JAYA: The increased incidence of fires is associated with hot and dry weather, says the Environment Department, which in the span of three years, received 19,099 open burning complaints from January 2019 to January 2022.

The department said that Malaysia normally experiences the hot and dry spell in the middle of January to March due to the second phase of the northeast monsoon where rainfall reception rates are low in most areas of the country.

The country will also typically experience hot and dry weather in June to October or up to early November in the case of Sarawak and Sabah at the end of the southwest monsoon, which increases cases of open burning, it said.

In 2019, the department recorded 6,475 complaints followed by 6,473 in 2020, 5,987 the following year, and a total of 164 in 2022 so far as of Wednesday.

In stepping up enforcement against open burning, the department had in 2021 issued a total of 577 compounds and prepared 20 investigation papers for offences under Section 29A, Environmental Quality Act 1974.

“Pursuant to Section 29A of the Environmental Quality Act 1974; “open burning” means any fire, combustion or smouldering that occurs in the open air and which is not directed there through a chimney or stack.

“Open burning is an offence under Section 29A (1), Environmental Quality Act 1974 and is punishable under Section 29A (2), Environmental Quality Act 1974.

“If convicted of the offence, the offender can be fined a maximum of RM500,000 or imprisoned for not more than two years.

“Meanwhile, a compound of maximum RM2,000 will be issued immediately for open burning offences that are compoundable such as small fires and less severe fires,” the department said in a statement to The Star yesterday.

The department has also stepped up the enforcement of open burning by adopting “smart enforcement” by using technologies such as thermal drone monitoring to detect hotspot areas even during the night.

It is also using technology for in-situ sampling of toxic gases using portable multi-gas analysers and the use of mobile automated continuous air quality monitoring stations to detect the status of air quality in the incident area.

“Apart from that, data analysis and modelling of dispersion of air pollutants are also utilised to predict the magnitude and area of impact,” it said.

The department has also activated its action plan to prevent open burning and standard operating procedures on Fire Prevention Programme, which will see state offices activating and increasing ground patrol and drone activities for the purpose of monitoring and enforcement.

“This is especially done in areas that have been identified as fire-prone areas such as peatland and landfills.

“They can also issue a letter of instruction to the local authority responsible for the landfill and to the estate owners to take precautionary measures to prevent fires.

“Close monitoring of air quality data from 65 automatic continuous stations and three mobile automatic continuous stations of air quality monitoring network nationwide are also being done.

“We have also activated the communication, education, public awareness (CEPA) programme and campaigns through local radio and social media,” it said.

Meanwhile, the Environment and Water Ministry will also activate the National Open Burning Action Plan at the onset of hot and dry periods normally in January or early February each year, it said.

The action plan is used for open burning cases which are not declared as a disaster under Directive No. 20 of the National Security Council.

The scope of the action plan covers the elements of prevention, monitoring, fire suppression and enforcement as well as the functions of relevant agencies and authorities.

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