KOTA KINABALU (THE STAR/ASIA NEWS NETWORK) - Thick smoke from open burning and bush fires is causing breathing problems as well as stinging pain in the eyes for people in Sabah's west coast, where haze is reported to be the worst in the state.
The situation worsens when the wind is strong as it fans the blaze which, in turn, causes bigger swathes of smoke.
Ashes from the burnt grass and trees can be seen everywhere. Anyone standing outside their car for less than a minute would already smell of smoke.
It is even worse for those living close to the burning areas.
Madam Siti Sarah Hatam, 55, said the burning behind her house in Bongawan, some 73 km from here, was suffocating and made breathing difficult for her and her children.
"It is hard to breathe. There is nowhere to get away from the haze because it invades our house," she said, adding that she hoped the weather would improve soon.
The mother of six had not been washing her clothes for the past few days due to the smoke but decided to do it on Monday (April 4) when she saw an improvement in the weather.
"The situation, however, worsened throughout the day and now all my clothes smell of smoke," she added.
Mr Achil Toimin, 20, said the smoke caused him headache.
"It is better today compared to the last few days when I even had to help my neighbour put out bush fires in front of her house," he said on Monday.
Some parts of the Papar-Beaufort road were also burning, much to the frustration of residents there.
Chief Minister Datuk Seri Musa Aman has asked for immediate measures to implement cloud seeding in the west coast of Sabah in view of the deteriorating air quality.
In a statement released after he met with officials from the Fire and Rescue Department, Sabah Meteorological Department and Department of Environment on the haze situation, he said the biggest contributor to the haze was the peat fires in the Binsuluk Forest Reserve in Beaufort and Kota Klias.
Firemen and State Forestry Department personnel were coordinating their efforts to battle the fire in Binsuluk, he said.
Natural Resources and Environment Minister Datuk Seri Dr Wan Junaidi Tuanku Jaafar said that open burning by plantation smallholders was to be blamed for causing the peat fires in Klias and Binsuluk, which forced 77 schools in south-western Sabah to be closed for two days.
The fire on March 27 destroyed 200 ha of the Binsuluk Forest Reserve and razed 20 ha of the reserve area in Klias, he added.