MAE HONG SON – The blaze that raged through the Mae Surin refugee camp in Mae Hong Son’s Khun Yuam district on Friday was probably an accident, Thailand’s National Security Council secretary-general Paradorn Pattanatabut said.
He said there seemed to be no motive for an act of arson.
He was responding to embattled Khun Yuam district police chief Pol Col Nitinart Wittayawuthikul who told the Bangkok Post his investigation indicated the fire started in the camp and is unlikely to have been an accident.
The district police chief was transferred to an inactive post at Mae Hong Son provincial police office on Monday for alleged negligence in his handling of Friday’s disaster. He was also removed from the investigation team.
The officer believes he was moved because he did not agree to conclude that the fire was accidental.
Lt Gen Paradorn brushed aside claims by refugees that they saw a helicopter fly over the camp and drop something which they believe caused the fire.
“I don’t see any reason why the camp should be struck by arson. Who would do that kind of thing? It could be an accident,” Lt Gen Paradorn said.
Air force chief Prajin Jantong also believed the blaze could have been an accident rather than arson.
ACM Prajin said people may have burnt garbage carelessly while the strong wind in the mountains could have contributed to the rapid spread of the blaze, he said. Officials at the camp should ensure the refugees dispose of garbage properly without causing fires, he said.
Suttha Saiwanich, Mae Hong Son deputy governor, said both central and local forensic teams concluded that the fire was accidental. Damage was severe because of strong winds and the camp being on a slope.
Song Klinprathum, director of the Royal Rain-making Operations Centre in the upper North based in Chiang Mai, said the centre launched an operation last Friday to make artificial rain to ease the choking haze in Mae Hong Son, and Khun Yuam district was chosen as the operation base.
Three helicopters were deployed to improve air quality, he said.
Mr Song insisted chemicals used in rain-making did not cause the fire.
“I am confident those chemicals have nothing to do with the fire. Moreover, the helicopters operated at high altitudes so there was no chance that they would create a fire on the ground below.”
“The pilots also detected smoke on their radar during the operation. But they didn’t realise that the smoke came from the burning camp. They learned later the fire [at the camp] happened near the operation base.”
Meanwhile, a group of non-government organisations has asked for cash donations from people around the world to help the refugees affected by the fire.
Sally Thomson, with The Border Consortium, said about 13 million baht (US $433,000) is needed to rebuild houses, warehouses, sanitation systems and to buy food for the refugees.
Extra would be needed to build schools and clinics [for the refugees] which were destroyed by the blaze.
The fire killed 37 Karen and Karenni refugees, injured more than 100, and left more than 2,300 homeless. The camp is home to more than 3,605 people.
Paisarn Thanyawinitchakul, chief of the Mae Hong Son Public Health Office, said eight refugees are still being treated in hospitals. The most serious case is a man who has suffered burns to 53% of his body. He is being treated at Maharaj Nakorn Chiang Mai Hospital. Seven others are in Mae Hong Son hospitals.