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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Smog from Borneo's Burning Forests Begins to Lift

JAKARTA, Indonesia -- Winds and heavy rain on the Malaysian peninsula and Borneo island Monday brought welcome relief to millions of Southeast Asians choking beneath toxic smog, but the death toll rose as forest fires spread across Indonesia.

As Indonesia buried victims of a jetliner crash and Malaysian navy frogmen searched for 29 victims of a ship collision in the Malacca Strait, both accidents blamed on the haze, a Jakarta newspaper reported the fifth death from the huge environmental disaster.

Schools reopened and residents returned to work Monday as western Borneo basked in sunshine after heavy rain and changing winds lifted heavy smog and a 10-day state of emergency.

Downpours in Kuala Lumpur forced the Air Pollutant Index down 30 percent at midday Monday, with similar improvements in other cities.

However, a meteorologist warned that the rainfall-laden easterly winds from the South China Sea were "likely to revert to south easterly and southerly direction and bring back the smoke" after two days, and that long-term relief was only expected with the November monsoons.

The smog has been blamed on widespread fires spreading through some of the world's largest tropical rain forests, which have been igniting like tinder due to the climatic phenomenon known as El Ni–o.