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City blanketed by smog

by August 27, 2016 General

Singapore’s air hits unhealthy levels as illegal fires blaze across Indonesia.

The Marina Bay Sands Integrated Resort fades away as Singapore's air is fouled by forest fires. Photo / AP
The Marina Bay Sands Integrated Resort fades away as Singapore’s air is fouled by forest fires. Photo / AP

Acrid smog has blanketed Singapore in the year’s first major outbreak of haze, an annual crisis sparked by forest fires in neighbouring Indonesia.

Singapore’s air quality index reached unhealthy levels with conditions deteriorating through Friday, marking the worst return of the haze to the city since vast parts of Southeast Asia were affected in 2015.

Last year’s haze outbreak shrouded Malaysia, Singapore, and parts of Thailand in acrid smoke.

The blazes are started illegally to clear land, typically for palm oil and pulpwood plantations, and Indonesia has faced intense criticism from its neighbours over its failure to halt the annual smog outbreaks.

Singapore’s National Environment Agency said the three-hour Pollutant Standards Index (PSI) was at 165 at 0400 GMT on Friday.

The reading for the 24-hour period, however, was on the higher band of the moderate range.

PSI levels above 100 are deemed unhealthy.

A cloud of greyish smoke swept across the island, accompanied by the strong smell of burning foliage.

Visibility from high-rises and other vantage points was virtually zero. Smog was also visible in Kuala Lumpur, the capital of neighbouring Malaysia, over a few days but did not breach unhealthy levels.

An area in the Malaysian state of Perak had briefly tipped over to the unhealthy range for a few hours last week, according to local media.

Singapore, last September, closed schools and distributed protective face masks as the air pollution index soared to hazardous levels following three weeks of cloaking smoke from Indonesia’s nearby Sumatra island.

Indonesia’s Meteorology, Climatology and Geophysics Agency said that the number of “hotspots”on Sumatra – across the Malacca Strait from Singapore – had increased in the past 48 hours.

A hotspot is an area of intense heat detected by satellites, indicating a blaze has already broken out or an area is likely to go up in flames soon.

As of midnight local time on Thursday, there were 68 hotspots on Sumatra, up from 43 two days earlier, the agency said.

In the Indonesian part of Borneo island there were 31 hotspots as of midnight Thursday local time, it said.

There were far fewer fires than at the peak of last year’s crisis, when hundreds burned out of control.

Three provinces on Sumatra and three on Indonesian Borneo have, in recent months, declared they are on alert owing to the growing threat from forest fires.

The Indonesian disaster agency is using eight helicopters, two water-bombing planes, and two cloud-seeding planes to fight the fires.