Forest fire just fails to reach revered Guan Yin shrine in Mae Hong Son
Breaking News May 06, 2019
By The Nation
The northern province of Mae Hong Son continued to see forest fires at the weekend, with one of them almost reaching a revered Guan Yin shrine in Muang district Sunday night, officials said.
A fire broke out in the forest behind the shrine on the Mae Hong Son bypass in Ban Mai Ngae village of Tambon Pang Moo at 7 pm, surprising and scaring villagers and motorists.
Firefighters quickly dug a buffer zone about 10 meters from the shrine and houses to prevent the blaze from spreading while fire engines moved in to douse the flames.
Almost simultaneously, another fire broke out on a mountaintop near Ban Mai Ngae and spread to Ban Pong Daeng and Ban Soppong villages, damaging some 50 rai of the forest.
Kampanat Prajongpim, chief of the Mae Sariang forest fire station, said the fires were apparently started by local villagers burning weeds and leaves.
Kampanat added that northern province continued to be hit with multiple fires because the villagers wanted to burn the forests in the hope of promoting the growth of mushrooms when the rains come.
Kampanat said his station had to dispatch officials to work with firefighters of the Forestry Department and troops and firefighters of the Muang Mae Hong Son Municipality to fight the blazes around Muang district. He reiterated that the fires were set intentionally by certain locals.
Tambon Pang Moo and Tambon Pha Pong were the hardest hit by the forest fires.
Forest fires in Mae Hong Son intensified after the government lifted a ban on weed burning on April 30. After the ban ended, farmers burned their fields, causing a rise in smog and air pollution.
As of 9 am Monday, the amount of PM2.5 – particles of no more than 2.5 millimeters in diameter – in Tambon Jongkham was measured at 36 micrograms per cubic meter of air, lower than the safe limit of no more than 50 micrograms per cubic meter of air. The level has risen gradually from the 23 micrograms measured on May 4.
57 forest, bush fires reported in Brunei since early March
James Kon | Borneo Bulletin/Asia News Network
Bandar Seri Begawan, Brunei / Sat, April 6, 2019 / 06:06 pm
The Fire and Rescue Department (FRD) issued a statement yesterday thanking the Brunei Gas Carriers Sdn Bhd for contributing 20 boxes of mineral water to the personnel of the Jerudong Fire Station.
“On behalf of the Fire and Rescue Department, the Commanding Officer of the Operation Branch ‘F’ conveys his gratitude and thanks to Brunei Gas Carriers Managing Director John Douglas Cook, as well as his staff, for the contribution,” said the statement.
Firefighters from the Operation Branch ‘F’ at the Jerudong and Pengkalan Batu fire stations have been handling 57 reports of forest and bush fires since early March, as Brunei Darussalam enters the second phase of the northeast monsoon season with very limited rainfall.
Apart from renewed warnings on open burning, leaving campfires unattended and tossing lit cigarette butts, the FRD also reminds members of the public to slow down when driving by areas that are affected by the forest fire, as the smoke can reduce visibility.
To report cases of open burning, contact 995 or 123. To report vandalism or theft of fire hydrants, contact 993.
SAMOENG, Thailand: Under a shroud of thick, black smoke, the hill is ablaze.
Men in red uniforms snake through a burning forest in single file, searching for the source of the ferocious fire that has engulfed a large part of the hill in Samoeng district of western Chiang Mai – a northern Thai province that recently reported the worst air quality in the world.
“It’s more severe than previous years because the fuel – all the dry leaves and plants – had accumulated for a few years without burning. This year is dry. There is no rain and little humidity. So when the fuel ignites, it’s harder to control,” said Amphon Kanchan from the Khun Kan-Samoeng forest fire station.
For nearly two months, the firefighter has been on the front line of the ongoing battle against the burning forests in the mountainous province, which currently reports “hazardous” levels of air quality on the Air Quality Index. Some of them are a result of the drought and scorching heat while others were caused by crop burning – a common method used by farmers to clear farmland.
“Samoeng is a very difficult area. The terrain is high, steep and full of stony cliffs. Sometimes we have to cut pieces of wood and stick them in the ground for support as we climb,” Amphon said.
Every day, the firefighter leaves the station at 6 am for various hot spots. Work is normally finished by 10pm but sometimes it drags on until the small hours of the morning – often without a meal break.
“If we don’t finish work, we can’t go back down.”
Between Jan 1 and Apr 4, 6,437 hot spots were reported in nine provinces in northern Thailand. Data from the Geo-Informatics and Space Technology Development Agency shows Chiang Mai has the highest number of hot spots – 1,299 – followed by 1,174 in Mae Hong Son, 975 in Nan, 798 in Lampang, 644 in Tak, 554 in Chiang Rai, 379 in Phrae, 341 in Phayao and 282 in Lamphun.
These hot spots have resulted in a haze crisis which prompted Prime Minister Gen Prayut Chan-o-cha to fly Chiang Mai earlier this week to address the situation.
“I would like everybody to be determined in solving and alleviating the problem within seven days,” he said on Tuesday.
We all have to accept the situation is still severe.
On Friday, Chiang Mai recorded a “very unhealthy” PM2.5 air quality index reading of 293. On some days, it has been much worse. PM2.5 are microparticles with a diameter of less than 2.5 micrometers or about 3 percent the diameter of a human hair.
The particles are one of the deadliest forms of air pollution and can penetrate deep inside the lungs, where they either remain for long periods or pass into the bloodstream unfiltered. Long-term exposure to these particles can result in cardiovascular and respiratory diseases and cancers.
A lot of them fill Chiang Mai’s air but only a handful of residents are aware of their existence or the danger they could pose.
“I don’t wear a face mask because I can’t breathe properly with it,” said Urai Khiewmoon, a Chiang Mai resident. “But I don’t have any health problem.”
Instead of wearing a face mask that filters PM2.5 particles, Urai chooses to stay indoors when the air gets bad and so do her neighbors – the elderly, parents and young children.
But even if the tiny particles cannot be seen, the smoke which carries their potentially deadly threat is very visible. Venturing out on the worst days means walking through choking, dense clouds of smoke. The smell of the burning forests hangs heavy in the air, and staying outside for very long is unpleasant at best. At worst, it is a physical challenge.
A DANGEROUS JOB WITH NO PROTECTION
On the burning hill, the firefighters have split into two groups to control the flames from different directions. They use little water simply because most parts of the hill are too high for a water truck to reach. Instead, they use brooms made of bamboo trunks to sweep dry leaves and grass – the fuel – away from the flames to create a firebreak.
If the fire is 3 metres high, Amphon said the gap needs to be at least 8 metres wide. However, the process has to be done gradually by firefighters, who usually work together in a team of 15 people.
“When the first person has separated the fuel from the fire, the second one comes in to widen the gap. Then the third and the fourth persons make it even wider. The fifth and the sixth persons are responsible for checking the firebreak to ensure no branch or leaf is left behind,” he explained.
“We can’t separate the fuel from the fire right away. Otherwise, the flames could jump across the gap.”
From day until night, firefighters have to work in searing heat on steep and dangerous terrain. But despite their perilous tasks, they hardly have any protection. In Chiang Mai, the likes of Amphon wear a long-sleeved shirt, simple trousers and boots during the operation. However, none of them is fireproof.
“The boots save our ankles but they don’t help us balance on steep terrains. It’s slippery,” he said.
“We wear them and carry water with us. When they catch fire, we pour water on them to cool them down. Sometimes our boots get burnt.”
Forest fires and haze are reoccurring problems in northern Thailand in the dry season between January and April. This year, the situation remains severe as the country approaches its water festival Songkran, which is celebrated annually on Apr 13-15.
The period usually sees a large number of tourists in Chiang Mai. But according to the Provincial Tourism Authority of Thailand office, 5 percent of Thai tourists have already canceled their reservations or postponed their trip to the northern province amid growing public concern about its toxic air.
And still, the work of the firefighters goes on. Round the clock they work, trying to restore clean air to the region’s suffering people.
“I haven’t stopped working or gone home. I work every day,” firefighter Amphon says, as he turns once again to tackle the relentless flames.
Bangladesh, Pakistan and India rate badly; Jakarta and Hanoi were SE Asia’s most polluted cities in 2018
MARCH 5, 2019 By ASIA TIMES STAFF
South Asia is home to the world’s four most polluted countries – Bangladesh, Pakistan, India, and Afghanistan – and the region also has 18 of the top 20 most polluted cities.
Greenpeace released the latest air pollution data today with a warning that seven million people will die around the world over the next year because of air pollution. The economic cost is also tipped to be enormous: US$225 billion in lost labor and “trillions” in medical costs.
The positive news was that air quality in Beijing has got better. Average concentrations in cities in China fell by 12% from 2017 to 2018, and Beijing was the 122nd most polluted city in the world last year. However, the number of Chinese cities with high pollution is still substantial.
Jakarta and Hanoi were the two most polluted cities in Southeast Asia, and Jakarta could soon overtake Beijing in the rankings.
In other parts of the world, 10 cities in Bosnia-Herzegovina, Macedonia, and Kosovo, plus four in Turkey had PM2.5 levels that were three times greater than the World Health Organization guidelines.
Climate change impact
Air quality in cities in the US and Canada were made dramatically worse by historic wildfires between August and November. This showed that “climate change is making the effects of air pollution worse by changing atmospheric conditions and amplifying forest fires,” Greenpeace said in a statement.
“The key driver of climate change – burning fossil fuels – is also the main driver of air pollution, globally. Therefore, tackling climate change will also greatly improve our air quality,” it said.
Meanwhile, hundreds of millions of people in Africa and South America were left in the dark because they do not have adequate equipment to monitor air quality.
Frank Hammes, the head of IQAir, said: “The 2018 World Air Quality Report is based on .. data from tens of thousands of air quality monitoring stations around the world.
“Now everyone with a cellphone has free access to this data via the AirVisual platform. This has also created a demand for air quality monitoring in cities or regions where no public data is available. Communities and organizations from California to Kabul are supplementing governmental monitoring efforts with their own low-cost air quality monitoring networks, and are giving everyone access to more hyper-local information.”
‘Trillions in medical costs’
The executive director of Greenpeace South East Asia, Yeb Sano, said: “Air pollution steals our livelihoods and our futures, but we can change that. In addition to human lives lost, there’s an estimated global cost of $225 billion in lost labor and trillions in medical costs. This has enormous impacts, on our health and on our wallets.
“We want this report to make people think about the air we breathe because when we understand the impacts of air quality on our lives, we will act to protect what’s most important.”
“The common culprit across the globe is the burning of fossil fuels – coal, oil, and gas – worsened by the cutting down our forests,” Sano said. “What we need to see is our leaders thinking seriously about our health and the climate by looking at a fair transition out of fossil fuels while telling us clearly the level of our air quality, so that steps can be taken to tackle this health and climate crisis.”