Air quality improves in Sabah, firemen aim to put out ongoing fires by next week

KOTA KINABALU: Firemen in Sabah are looking at dousing any remaining open fires by next week with plans to carry out cloud seeding in the works.

Additionally, air quality is improving in most areas of the state on Friday (March 15).

Sabah Fire and Rescue Department director Abdul Razak Muda said they had so far put out various brush, jungle and open fires involving an estimated area of 1,708ha in several districts mainly in Sabah’s west coast and northern areas.

“We are now focused on the remaining 64ha. Hopefully by next week, if there are no new major fires, we will be able to put them all out,” he said when contacted.

The current fires were mainly in Kota Belud, Tuaran, Kota Kinabalu and Papar where firemen had been working round the clock over the past several weeks to douse fires ranging from peat, brush, jungle and dumpsite fires as well as uncontrolled open burning by individuals and companies.

ALSO READ: Right clouds needed for seeding process, says Sabah State Sec

He said firemen in Kota Belud were being assisted by Civil Defence Force personnel while in Kota Kinabalu’s Sepanggar area, the Navy had also come in to assist.

He said that the department’s Miri-based Mi17 helicopter would again be deployed to put out fires in secondary forest around Kota Kinabalu, Kota Belud and Kuala Penyu on Monday (March 18).

As of Friday, he said they received three more open fire reports including one involving an estimated 5ha of forest at Kg Napisan.

“We have put out about 4ha and are continuing operations there,” he added.

Meanwhile, State Secretary Datuk Seri Safar Untong said cloud seeding would be carried out as soon as they identified suitable clouds for the operations.

ALSO READ: Haze conditions improve in Sabah

He said the National Disaster Management Agency (Nadma) had already approved the state request for cloud seeding to be conducted at all the river catchments areas.

Safar, who chairs the state disaster management committee, said all district officers had been ordered to work closely with firemen to ensure that the fires were extinguished.

The localised fires triggered unhealthy air conditions in south-western Kimanis area (under the Papar and Beaufort districts).

Key open fires blamed for the haze in Kuala Penyu and Membakut had been put out by firemen.

The API readings on the Environment Department website showed improving air quality in Kimanis.

Sabah has been facing a severe hot and dry spell since early February and villagers relying on gravity water feed had been appealing for assistance as their sources in river catchment areas have been drying up.

Papar district declared a drought emergency on Monday (March 11) after the district’s water treatment plant was shut down. The move was to facilitate water delivery to the residents in the district, about 40km from Kota Kinabalu.

Sabah said water supply from its dams and treatment plants could last three months although the Sebatik water dam in Tawau had already dried out.