| Azlan Othman & Aziz Idris |
SEVERAL areas in the Brunei-Muara District experienced localised hazy conditions due to bush and forest fires yesterday.
The fires were scattered mostly in the Rimba area, Lambak Kanan and some at the Muara-Tutong Highway near the Berakas Forest Reserve.
Meanwhile, thick smog has blanketed areas around the Tungku Link yesterday with forest fires raging in areas near Universiti Brunei Darussalam (UBD), Universiti Teknologi Brunei (UTB) and around Rimba.
The UTB contacted by the Sunday Bulletin said their Health, Safety, Security and Environment (HSSE) Department had sent precautions via email to its staff and students on the forest fire near the campus, urging them to take precautionary measures during their stay at the campus.
They had also put up a health advisory.
Photos of forest fires near the two institutions went viral yesterday. Fire engines from the Fire and Rescue Department were seen at the scene dousing the forest fire which spread to a wider area.
Members of the public complained about the smell of the burning forest and dusts that settled at their housing compounds and cars. “My car is covered with dust which also entered my housing scheme. Such condition was even reported from the capital yesterday,” Iman from Kampong Jangsak said.
Meanwhile, the Department of Environment, Parks and Recreation (JASTRe) in a press release said the Fire and Rescue Department was monitoring the fire situation.
The public can report about incidences of bush and forest fires to the Fire and Rescue Department on hotline 995.
The department also advised the public to refrain from open burning and other similar activities that may worsen the haze conditions during the dry period.
The department also referred to a video of a forest fire spread through social media, said this incident did not happen here.
The Fire and Rescue Department stated that it is an offence to disseminate unverified information, especially if it is fake and fabricated and causes anxiety under the current law of the Public Order Act, Cap 148 Section 34 which states that whoever either orally or in writing or in any way, distributes misleading reports or makes false statements that can cause anxiety among the public is liable to imprisonment of three years and a fine of BND3,000.
The Fire and Rescue Department advised the public not to spread any videos related to bush or forest fires. For information on bush and forest fire the public can contact the Public Relations Department on 2380402/409 extension 111 during office hours.
Statistics of bush and forest fires received by the Fire and Rescue Department from January – March 15 indicate that 214 calls have been received in the Brunei-Muara District, 89 in Tutong, 161 in Belait and one in Temburong.
A forest and bush fire gutted a house in Kampong Madewa on February 14 while on February 17 damaged an empty and old house in Kampong Terunjing Baru.
An investigation revealed the fire was due to abandonment.
The Fire and Rescue Department urged the public not to carry out open burning to clean the area for cultivation, at homes or other areas such as construction sites that may be vulnerable and can cause a major fire and destroy property.
One should also put out cigarette butts.
Hunting enthusiasts or those conducting activities or recreation in forests, should avoid lighting fires.
If fires are lit, the fire and ashes should be completely doused before leaving the area.
Picnickers were also urged to douse fires lit by them before leaving. Drivers were also requested to reduce the speed limit when crossing the road near a forest fire area, as the smoke can reduce visibility and cause an accident.
The public was also urged to put out minor bush fires along the roadside taking care of their safety first.
Meanwhile, JASTRe stated that the Pollutant Standard Index (PSI) readings recorded from all the air quality monitoring stations (Particulate Matter 10) in the four districts were relatively higher than normal, from ‘Good’ to ‘Moderate’ level especially in the evening.
The PSI readings recorded yesterday (as of 5pm) for Brunei-Muara District was at 63; Belait District, 21; Temburong District, 38; and Tutong District, 21.
PSI reading below 50 is Good. PSI between 50 and 100 is Moderate.
The Ministry of Health advised the public that at moderate PSI readings (between 50 and 100), minor health effects such as cough, eye irritation and runny nose may be experienced and children with asthma, lung and heart diseases advised to reduce outdoor physical activities.
More information on PSI readings is available at www.env.gov.bn.
The public will be kept informed of the air quality situa-tion through Radio Television Brunei stations and the JASTRe website.
The Fire and Rescue Department is closely monitoring the fire situation.
The public is advised to report immediately any incidences of bush and forest fires to the Fire and Rescue Department at the hotline 995 and Darussalam hotline on 123.
The JASTRe can also be contacted on 2241262 ext 4405 during office hours.
For weather information and forecasts, the public can visit the Brunei Darussalam Meteorological Department’s website www.met.gov.bn.
The Ministry of Health will continue to monitor the haze and will provide information to the public from time to time.
Further information can be obtained by calling Darussalam hotline 123 or visiting the Ministry of Health’s website.