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Hazy skies: Local vegetation fires, regional hotspots cited as causes

SINGAPORE — Hotspots in the northern ASEAN region and local vegetation fires are some factors that could have contributed to the burning smell in Singapore said the National Environment Agency in an advisory sent on Wednesday (March 30).

Hazy conditions as seen at 7.03pm on March 30, 2016. Photo: Wee Teck Hian

Hazy conditions as seen at 7.03pm on March 30, 2016. Photo: Wee Teck Hian

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SINGAPORE — Hotspots in the northern part of the South-east Asian region, as well as vegetation fires in Singapore, are some of the possible causes that could have contributed to the burning smell in the air here, said the ­National Environment Agency (NEA) in an ­advisory on Wednesday (March 30).

On Tuesday alone, the Singapore Civil Defence Force (SCDF) had to respond to 20 incidents of fire on pockets of vegetation, the largest occurring in the late morning near the junction of Tampines Avenue 1 and Avenue 10, on an area that measured 10m by 2m. It was put out within 15 minutes, said the SCDF in a separate press release on Wednesday.

The remaining 19 fires were smaller, each measuring an average area of 2m by 2m, and were quickly extinguished — most of them in shrubs along the centre dividers of the Pan-Island Expressway and Bukit Timah Expressway, it added.

This month, up to Tuesday, there were 94 vegetation fires in Singapore, said the SCDF, compared with 97 for the same month in 2015, and 239 in 2014. 

Overall, the number of such fires for the first three months of this year is lower than the two previous years, it added. 

The largest fire this month was along Yishun Ring Road on  March 2, where a thick patch of vegetation that measured less than a quarter of a football field caught fire. It was put out within an hour.

With weather conditions generally dry with little rainfall in Singapore and South-east Asia because of the traditional dry season, the NEA said there has been a rise in the number of hotspots in the region as well. “This could result in an increased concentration of particulate matter such as dust particles in the atmosphere over the region,” it said. 

Along with the vegetation fires reported in Singapore on Tuesday, and some wind convergence over the island in the late afternoon that day, these factors could have contributed to the slight deterioration in air quality in some parts of the island on Tuesday night and early Wednesday morning, it added.

Air quality over the island on Wednesday remained in the moderate (50-100) range, with the 24-hour Pollutant Standards Index (PSI) registering between 67 and 82 at 8am, and between 66 and 84 at 8pm. The three-hour PSI reading was 82 at 8am, fell to a low of 65 at 2pm, and crept up again to 89 at 8pm. 

In an update at 7.20pm on Wednesday, the ASEAN Specialised Meteorological Centre, which works with the national meteorological services of South-east Asian countries, reported that there were isolated hotspots detected mainly in Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam, although the full extent of hotspot activities in Myanmar and Thailand could not be determined due to cloud cover. 

The NEA advised those who are not feeling well, especially elders and children, and those with chronic heart or lung conditions to seek medical attention. It said it is monitoring the reported situation closely and would provide updates when necessary.

Complaints about the haze appeared on social media.

One user, @SpikyKelvin, tweeted on Tuesday morning: “Woke up to a HAZY morning here”. Another person, going by the name @morbidshark groaned: “The #SGHaze is back already?! How bad is it gonna get this time”.

Photos are also beginning to appear on Twitter and Instagram. Instagram user @sanyuhesselink posted a photo of the view from Hougang Cape showing a hazy horizon and noted: “this is what happen when you have an inconsiderate neighbour who smokes (burns rainforests) and don’t care about your health or well-being”

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