From: Associated Press
Published August 3, 2005 12:00 AM

Forest Fires in Indonesia Blanket Malaysian Cities with Unhealthy Haze

KUALA LUMPUR, Indonesia — Forest fires in Indonesia's Sumatra province covered Malaysia's main city Kuala Lumpur and 32 other towns Tuesday with a smoky haze that reduced visibility to as low as one kilometer (half a mile).


The Department of Environment said air quality in an area in central Perak state was "unhealthy," and it downgraded air quality in 32 other areas nationwide, including Kuala Lumpur, from "good" to "moderate."


It said in a statement that satellite images showed 587 "hot spots," or fires, in Riau and northern Sumatra in Indonesia. The province is separated from peninsular Malaysia by the narrow Malacca Strait.


Seventeen hot spots were also seen in Malaysia's Sarawak state, and 16 in Indonesia's Kalimantan province, both on Borneo island, it said.


"Southwesterly winds are blowing from Sumatra to Malaysia. We can expect the hazy conditions to persist for the next one to two days until the wind direction changes," a weather forecaster at the meteorological department told The Associated Press. He spoke on condition of anonymity.


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In Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia's biggest city and its financial capital, traffic slowed to a crawl as nothing could be seen beyond a distance of one kilometer (a half mile). The acrid smell of burning vegetation filled the air.


The affect of the haze on flights arriving and leaving Kuala Lumpur was not immediately known.


Forest fires often break out in the region during dry spells because of the spread of illegal land-clearing fires, or carelessly discarded cigarettes.


Kuala Lumpur last reported unhealthy air quality levels in 1997, when brush fires in Indonesia destroyed some 10 million hectares (25 million acres) of vegetation, cloaking much of Southeast Asia with haze.


Economic losses from those fires topped US$9.3 billion (euro7.7 billion) and prompted a 2002 agreement among six of the ten Association of Southeast Asian Nations members to fight fire pollution.


Source: Associated Press


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