Community’s support critical

A comparison of open burning incidents from 2019, 2020, and 2021 (as of June 7). Infographic: Bomba Sarawak

KUCHING: The community’s cooperation is critical in combating and eradicating forest fires and open burning, said Fire and Rescue Department Sarawak director Khirudin Drahman.

He said while it was the department’s role to respond to incidents of fire, members of the public must cooperate in order to keep cases of forest fires and open burning to a minimum.

“Now, most of our assets, logistics, and resources are concentrated on the vaccination centres (PPVs), sanitisations in the fight against Covid-19.

Fire and Rescue Department (Bomba) Sarawak director Khirudin Drahman

“That is why we have to tackle the issue of bushfires and open burning before it happens, because based on our observations and records each year, there would be a spike in cases from March until June,” he said when contacted by the New Sarawak Tribune on Wednesday (June 23).

He added that the department had started advocacy efforts with the Department of Environment (DOE) and the Natural Resources and Environment Board Sarawak (NREB) in January this year.

“Normally, before the dry season, we do a lot of advocacy efforts with the locals — creating champions among the community to participate in our prevention programme.

“Apart from this, we also conduct monitoring using drones. We use these drones to monitor areas using infrared imaging. Even at night time, we conduct surveillance to make sure that people do not start fires in the evening and at night,” Khirudin explained.

He said these real-time monitoring efforts had helped to reduce the number of open burning cases.

He added that Bomba Sarawak had planned to conduct monitoring operations with other relevant agencies from an early stage, including plantation owners having to regulate their areas. These included enhancing monitoring efforts during the dry seasons.

He said patrols were also conducted in areas with higher potential for fire incidents.

Statistics of open burning incidents for this year, as of 7am on Wednesday (June 23). Infographic: Bomba Sarawak

He shared that there had been a cumulative total of 499 cases of open burning this year — of which 18 involved farms or plantations, 30 involved forests, 343 involved bushland or grassland and 108 were incidents of garbage burning. 

During the corresponding first half of last year, there were 446 cases of open burning while in 2019, there were 992 such incidents. The total number of open burning incidents last year was 709 cases while 2019 recorded a total of 2,268 cases — the highest in a period of five years.

“At the start of the Covid-19 pandemic when the movement control order (MCO) was announced in Sarawak from March until June last year, the number of fire incidents involving small forests, new plantations, farms, and bushland was almost zero,” he said, pointing out that this statistic indicated that these incidents stemmed from human actions.

On another note, Khirudin said prescribed burning activities by large companies were carried out under controlled conditions as determined by the authorities. 

“Prescribed burning means that they are allowed by NREB to carry out the burning activity, provided that they have the pump, water supply, and personnel for them to contain the fire before our arrival in the event that it breaks loose,” he explained.

He said the determination of the area for the prescribed burning depended on the current conditions on the day.

“If it is too dry, NREB will not allow them to carry out the burning — it is controlled. This is because unnecessary burning would be out of control and the smoke will start blowing towards the city or residential areas and they would have to stop.

“They ensure that the wind is blowing towards the jungle so that the smoke does not affect the people much,” he said.