CHIANG RAI – Authorities are desperately scrambling to put out fires which have devastated over 1,000 rai of forest in Mae Chan district of Chiang Rai Province.
“The situation is so severe that His Majesty the King has expressed his concerns for the safety of villagers and firefighters,” 3rd Corps Commander Lt Gen Supachoke Thawatphirachai said on Monday.
The fires, which were first reported on Sunday night, has destroyed wide swathes of forest on Doi Chake — a scenic mountain reserve in tambon Mae Chan — and are threatening residents living in five nearby villages.
“A team of 1,500 soldiers, forest officials and volunteers tried to bring the fires under control, but were only able to combat the blaze at some spots,” he said. “The situation near Tat Tong waterfall is particularly worrying.”
Helicopters have been deployed to carry water from a nearby reservoir, to be poured onto the fires in a bid to help the firefighters.
“It’s strange to see fires happening almost simultaneously across several districts in the mountains,” deputy 3rd army chief Maj Gen Bancha Duriyaphan said on Monday, adding a disaster of this scale has never been seen in Chiang Rai.
He also does not believe the fires mainly resulted from natural causes, as there have been no reports of frequent lightning strikes in the area.
“I suspect some people deliberately set the fires,” Maj Gen Bancha said.
The latest satellite images of the area around Chiang Rai found up to 291 active hot spots — far more than Nan, which came second with 57 active hot spots.
The forest fires have caused the ultra-fine PM2.5 dust levels to soar. In Mae Sai district, it hit 115 microgrammes per cubic metre (μg/m³) — way above the safe threshold of 50μg/m³ set by the Pollution Control Department.
PM2.5 levels exceeded the safe threshold in all northern provinces yesterday, except in Tak and Phrae, according to official readings.