Monday, November 18

Keeping peat fires at bay

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Expert says mechanical compaction, maintaining soil moisture key to preventing future fires

Lulie seen snapping photos of the raging fire in Kuala Baram.

MIRI: Mechanical compaction and maintaining the moisture of the soil are key to preventing peat fires from recurring in Kuala Baram, says peat soil expert Dr Lulie Melling.

The Sarawak Tropical Peat Research Laboratory director said uncompacted and dry peat soil will burn easily, especially during the dry season and droughts.

“Based on my visit today (yesterday), I can conclude that unmanaged peat soil land can easily burn when compared to land that is being used for plantations.

“It is because land which is not managed properly (by the owner) will not have the land mechanically compacted, while land that is managed such as for oil palm plantations will have to do mechanical compaction and have its own water management,” she said in an interview after a visit to Kuala Baram, here yesterday.

Lulie (third right) watches as the soil density behind the Miri Industrial Training Institute is tested during her visit yesterday.

Lulie opined that an effective method to prevent recurrence of peat soil fires is to compact the land using excavators to consolidate the soil.

She pointed out that by consolidating the soil, it will increase the soil bulk density and increase the moisture-holding capacity of the soil.

“The moisture content of the peat soil is increased via a better capillary rise of the soil. At the same time, it will moisten the peat to prevent the occurrence of fire,” she said.

She also suggested that unmanaged land be compacted and used to plant crops such as pineapples.

Lulie (squatting, second right) in a photo call with Ahmad Nizam (squatting, left), Naim volunteers, journalists and others during her visit to observe the situation in Kuala Baram.

There are about 8,000 hectares of unmanaged land in Kuala Baram.

Meanwhile, Fire and Rescue Department (Bomba) Miri senior officer Ahmad Nizam Sapaiee, who accompanied Lulie to the site, said the input from Lulie will be discussed in the next disaster management committee meeting.

“We (Bomba) will examine the tactical and technical aspect of our operation so that efforts to fight fires on peat soil land are more effective,” he said.

The forest and peat soil fires in Kuala Baram have destroyed over 1,280 hectares of land since Aug 1.