'Open burning' to ward off insects likely cause of Johor landfill fires: State fire chief

'Open burning' to ward off insects likely cause of Johor landfill fires: State fire chief

Johor Fire Chief Yahaya Madis
Johor Fire and Rescue Department Director Yahaya Madis. (Photo: Norbakti Alias)

JOHOR BAHRU: Open burning in an attempt to shoo away insects was believed to be the main cause of two landfill fires in southern Johor earlier this month, said Johor Fire and Rescue Department Director Yahaya Madis.

The fires in Bandar Tenggara and Tanjung Langsat resulted in a smoky smell lingering in the air, affecting parts of northeast Singapore.

Speaking to Channel NewsAsia on Wednesday (Feb 27), Mr Yahaya said that as landfills attract mosquitoes and flies, it was not unexpected for people to light fires to ward off the insects.

“We believe this is the main reason when the fire went out of control, causing it to spread fast,” he said.

The fire chief did not reveal who was responsible for the open burning.

He said it was unlikely that the incidents were spontaneous fires sparked by cigarette butts or glass directly exposed to the sun.

“Open burning is normally caused by human actions,” Mr Yahaya explained.

On Feb 8, residents in northeast Singapore reported a smoky smell in the air.

A day later, a spokesperson from the National Environment Agency (NEA) said “Malaysian authorities have been working around the clock” to stop the Bandar Tenggara burning.

NEA said then that it did not detect "any local sources of burning or factory upsets" that could have caused the smell. No transboundary haze was detected in the region either, it said.

The view from a flat in Tampines at about 8am on Feb 8, 2019. (Photo: CNA reader)

Residents in Punggol reported another episode of smoky smell on Feb 16.

In response to Channel NewsAsia’s queries, NEA said on Feb 16 that there has been a second fire in Tanjung Langsat.

“The prevailing winds have been blowing from the northeast, and this is expected to persist for the next few days. It is likely that the burning smell detected in the northeast of Singapore is related to this fire,” said NEA.

Commenting on the Tanjung Langsat fire in particular, Mr Yahaya said on Wednesday: “It is like a bush fire during the current dry season … We extinguished it within one day.”

“It is not possible for the smoke to cross the border,” he added.

READ: Second Johor hotspot detected; fires could bring 'some smell and haze' to Singapore: NEA


When Channel NewsAsia visited Tanjung Langsat on Wednesday, the burning smell could no longer be detected.

Tanjung Langsat Landfill, Johor
FILE PHOTO: Tanjung Langsat landfill as seen on February 27, 2019. (Photo: Norbakti Alias)

A youth in his mid 20s, who declined to be named, said most Tanjung Langsat villagers are “immune” to the smell.

“For most of us, the burning smell is sometimes similar to the smell of burnt dried leaves that we clear from our house compounds,” he said.

“Once in a while, we can smell burning rubber from the landfill and normally we will see a small fire at night,” he added.

Buddhiraj Limbu, who works as a security guard at a nearby factory in Tanjung Langsat
Buddhiraj Limbu, a security guard at a factory near Tanjung Langsat  landfill in Johor. (Photo: Norbakti Alias)

Mr Buddhiraj Limbu, who works as a security guard at a nearby factory in Tanjung Langsat said he had to bear with the burning smell when the recent fire happened.

“This was the worst situation since I began working in this area nine years ago. I am glad everything is okay now,” said the Nepalese.

Source: CNA/aw