A couple of activists phoned me just now to report of fires in some half a dozen spots on Penang Hill visible from the Botanic Garden area. Then I spotted smoke emerging from the hill at the Bukit Gambier area and another cloud of smoke visible from the Gelugor Post Office.
The 5.00pm radio bulletin says some 20000 people have been affected by the fires. The Fire Department is out there and they may consider dropping water on the hill – I am not sure how, though, and whether they even have much water supply at their disposal.
Received an email from a Penang Forum activist this afternoon: “More urgently there are many fires looking that they may be out of control on Penang Hill. The damage this will do right now is huge. You can see them all burning if you look up at the hills.”
“I’m surprised no one see is saying anything. They have been raging since yesterday.”
Fires that smoulder may be worse as they chew and spit out everything in their path while billowing clouds of smoke into the already hazy air like a chain-smoker puffing into an already smoky bar.
Yesterday morning, as I was approaching Penang Island on the ferry, I noticed a plume of smoke coming from a patch on the hill and wondered what it was.
A couple of days earlier, as I was passing by the state mosque, I noticed quite a number of cleared areas on the hill, not quite ‘botak’ but shorn of trees, leaving bare brownish green undergrowth as if a toupee of thick lush hair had flown off. I wondered then what kind of forest management and monitoring (if at all) they have on the hill. What is the Forestry Department doing about illegal clearing on the hills?
One Penang Hill resident said he noticed the fire yesterday as well. “It is not a large open fire, but a 100-metre strip along the jeep track, about a quarter of the way up the hill, was smouldering.”
Today, the fire has spread further away from the track at the 3.4km point of the 5.2km jeep track up the hill. He said the bits that are smouldering are belukar or secondary forests and undergrowth. The jeep track is likely to be closed.
What started yesterday appears to have somehow spread to other patches of the hill. The exact cause remains unknown but the dry weather must have played some part.
I don’t think the 10,000 visitors per day (that is the carrying capacity of our hill) racing up Penang Hill in the sleek trains will be awfully impressed when they peer out of the windows only to gaze at the cloak of smog shrouding the hill.
Meanwhile the water level in our dams continues to fall.
Remember James Logan’s climate change warning of 1848 if the forests of Penang Hill and the eastern half of the island are cut?
Unfortunately, it seems we won’t admit it is climate change even if it smacks us silly in the face. (What has happened to Najib’s climate change pledge to cut emissions by 40 per cent?)
Meanwhile, Botak Hill remains ‘botak’ (no restoration so far) and it is Development as usual in our International, Intelligent City.