Forest Fires Spark Haze Fears in Malaysia

KUALA LUMPUR ~ A growing number of forest fires in Sumatra has triggered warning bells that hazy skies could return to neighboring Malaysia, environmental officials said this week.

Forest fires from Indonesia caused by traditional farming methods have been blamed for the choking haze, which shrouds the region annually.

Malaysia was drafting plans to ensure no open-burning activities were carried out during the dry season, although there were no reports of haze, said Rosnani Ibrahim, director-general of the environmental department.

“There is no indicator that we are going to have it yet, but we are concerned with the increasing number of hotspots,” or illegal fires, Rosnani said.

“We are doing our best to avoid any open burning here in the country.”

The number of hotspots in Sumatra rose from 351 to 531 within 24 hours at the weekend, according to meteorological department forecasters.

Rosnani said the annual dry season from June until the end of September was “usually when the haze sets it,” but it also depended on the strength and direction of the wind.

The air pollutant index (API) on Sunday recorded a reading of 93 in Port Klang, which faces Sumatra, slightly better than the level of 104 on Saturday evening.

An API reading of between 101 to 200 is considered unhealthy.

Most areas in the country have recorded moderate levels, the department said.

The Indonesian government has said it is confident of reducing the number of illegal fires this year.

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