Smog crisis in North blamed on authorities’ top-down approach

Smog crisis in North blamed on authorities’ top-down approach

By Pratch Rujivanarom | May 15, 2019

ACADEMICS PUT down the authorities’ failure to control this year’s smog crisis in the North to an inappropriate “command-and-control approach”, adding that this problem will persist if the strategy is not revised.

Naporn Popattanachai, director of Thammasart University’s Centre for Natural Resources and Environmental Law, said drought next year will worsen if the authorities do not change their approach and bring the public on board when it comes to dealing with air pollution. 

Though the smog season has come to an end with rains arriving in the North, Naporn said evidence such as PM2.5 (particulate matter less than 2.5 microns in size), hotspots and the duration indicate that the smog situation this year lasted longer and was more severe than previous years. This also proves that the government’s measures to control the problem have failed, he said. 

He added that the smog-tackling measures failed because they lacked a holistic approach and did not deal with the different sources, as the authorities only focused on banning outdoor fires, which eventually turned farmers against the authorities.

“We observed that despite the ban, wildfires and hotspots took place anyway, intensifying the smog in the North,” he said. “This only proves that the authorities’ top-down command-and-control approach, forcing people not to burn farming waste in their fields and starting wildfires to gather forest products, is no longer effective as farmers are not interested in complying with the authorities.”

Sonthi Kotchawat, a leading environmental health expert, said outdoor fires were responsible for 54 per cent of the overall PM2.5 emissions.

Naporn, meanwhile, said the only way this situation can be reversed is if the authorities bring people on their side when it comes to tackling the problem from every source.

“The authorities need to change their approach, and call on local people to work with them to achieve sustainable solutions to control outdoor fires and other sources of pollution,” he said.

Admitting that the factors behind the smog crisis are very complicated and complex, he said they are still connected to several structural issues and involve multiple stakeholders, including influential big food companies, he said. In fact, he added, as consumers we should also be able to seek sustainable solutions to the chronic smog problem in the North.

For instance, he said, maize farmers are forced to set fire to farm waste and encroach into forests to expand their fields because big food companies require larger harvests. Since they earn little for their crops, the farmers have no choice but to cut down their production costs by practising the cheaper slash-and-burn technique to prepare their farm for the next crop.

“By imposing the right regulations to relieve farmers’ burden from contract farming, we can help them switch their farming techniques to more environmentally friendly ones and greatly cut down on the generation of pollution,” he suggested.

He also added that the policies for tackling smog should be flexible, in order to adapt to the changing situation and allow all related stake holders to change their practices.


Forest fire just fails to reach revered Guan Yin shrine in Mae Hong Son

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.


Village-watch teams told to be vigilant as firefighters withdraw from Thailand’s northern province

Village-watch teams told to be vigilant as firefighters withdraw from Mae Hong Son

national May 02, 2019 01:00


MAE HONG SON (The Nation) – Mae Hong Son governor Sirirat Chamupakarn has instructed village wildfire-watch teams to remain vigilant even though the province’s 61-day ban on outdoor fires ended on Tuesday and the level of fine dust particles in the air was below the safe limit for the first time in two months.

The Pollution Control Department (PCD) at 9 am yesterday put the 24-hour average of PM2.5 – airborne particulates 2.5 microns or less in diameter – at between 24 and 114 micrograms per cubic meter of air in nine northern provinces.

Tambon Jong Kham in Muang Mae Hong Son was at 38mcg – within the Thai safe limit of 50mcg (the World Health Organisation safe limit is 25mcg).

Tambon Wiang Phang Kham in Chiang Rai’s Mae Sai district was worst off with 114mcg, followed by Tambon Wiang in Muang Chiang Rai at 111mcg, Tambon Nai Wiang in Muang Nan at 67mcg and Tambon Ban Tom in Muang Phayao at 63mcg.

In Chiang Mai’s Muang district, Tambon Chang Pheuk and Tambon Sri Phum cited 57mcg and 55mcg respectively.

Firefighters continued tackling forest fires yesterday in Mae Hong Son province, where there were 10 hotspots according to a satellite image released at 2.33am – five in Muang, four in Pai and one in Pang Mapha districts.

At a meeting on Tuesday to conclude the ban on outdoor fires, it was reported that fires in Mae Hong Son had damaged 203,889 rai (32,622 hectares) of forestland from January 1 to March 16 and that there had been 1,499 hotspots in the province from January 1 to April 29.

At the meeting, Sirirat called on village wildfire-watch teams to remain vigilant for newly sparked fires during the dry season, now that backup firefighters and soldiers have been withdrawn.

In Phayao province, where the weather is still dry and temperatures are above 40 degrees Celsius, people were still battling many forest fires, including a major blaze near Doi Luang in Muang district that ignited on Monday and has already destroyed more than 100 rai of forestland.

Officials and volunteers continued working to put out the Doi Luang fire in order to protect farms and the Champathong Waterfall, and hope to have it completely extinguished by tomorrow, leaving the flames in hard-to-reach areas to burn themselves out.


Haze and PM2.5 Levels Still Dangerous as Burning Ban Lifted in Northern Thailand

Haze and PM2.5 Levels Still Dangerous as Burning Ban Lifted in Northern Thailand

With forest fires contributing to the high levels of PM2.5 pollution – airborne particulates 2.5 microns or less in diameter

CHIANG RAI – Although it was the last day of the ban on the outdoor burning ban in nine northern provinces on Tuesday, multiple forest fires continued to be a problem.

A satellite report cited 107 hotspots in the region on Monday with 35 locales in Chiang Rai and 15 sites in Chiang Mai.

With forest fires contributing to the high levels of PM2.5 pollution – airborne particulates 2.5 microns or less in diameter – the 24-hour average of PM2.5 in the nine provinces at 9 am on Tuesday ranged between 29-109 micrograms per cubic metres of air, according to the Pollution Control Department. The Thai safe limit is 50 mcg of PM2.5.

The air in Tambon Wiang Phang Kham in Chiang Rai’s Mae Sai district was worst off at 109mcg, followed by Tambon Wiang of Muang Chiang Rai (102mcg), Tambon Ban Tom in Muang Phayao (66mcg), and Tambon Chang Pheuk in Muang Chiang Mai (62mcg).

In Phayao’s Muang district, officials and volunteers continued to battle the forest fire near Doi Luang for the second day on Tuesday, in a bid to prevent it from reaching farmlands after it had already damaged 100 rai (16 hectares) of forestland.

It was expected that the Doi Luang fire would be put off by 1-2 days while those on hard-to-reach steep slopes would be left to burn out by themselves.

During the attempt to put off the Doi Luang fire at 5 pm on Monday, 59-year-old volunteer Kuan Oi-wan choked on smoke and passed out, prompting others to pull him out and rush him to hospital. He was recovering as of press time.

Another fire within a teak tree forest near Phayao University’s medical center in Tambon Mae Ka was promptly extinguished on Thursday by firefighters, related officials, and volunteers.

By The Nation



Drought conditions bring increased risk of forest fires, air pollution

Drought conditions bring an increased risk of forest fires, air pollution

Bangkok – The Department of Disaster Prevention and Mitigation has declared a total of 13 districts of five provinces, namely Roi Et, Sri Saket, Nakhon Ratchasima, Trat, and Chonburi, as drought-hit areas.

In the northern regions, hot spots and airborne particulate matter have risen again and a recent forest fire in Phrae province damaged 1,500 rai of land before authorities were able to bring the blaze under control.

Airborne dust and pollution in the nine northern provinces was reported by the Department of Pollution Control’s Air4thai website in a range of 51 to 205 micrograms per cubic meter with the highest, red-zone hot spot reported in Tambon Chong Kham in the capital district of Mae Hong Son where the particulate matter has remained at a health-affecting level.

The Department of Groundwater Resources Director General, Kusol Chotirat, confirmed that preparations have been made for the inspection into the conditions of groundwater wells, water pumps, waterworks, and water quality improvement systems in the face of the current drought. A total of 132 permanent water distribution spots have been set up to provide clean drinking water while 737 groundwater wells are being excavated this month in areas which might suffer a lack of water. Nakharat units and trucks equipped with the water quality improvement systems have been deployed to make clean drinking water for villagers in drought-hit areas.


Mae Hong Son continues to reel under man-made fires

Mae Hong Son continues to reel under man-made fires

Breaking News April 28, 2019

By Tossapol Boonpat
The Nation

More than 100 forest fires are raging in Mae Hong Son province, half of which reportedly stemmed from people’s attempts to clear farmlands to prepare the soil for the early sowing of seeds before the rainy season.

A satellite image reported that as of 1.47am on Sunday, Mae Hong Son had 152 hotspots (49 in Pai, 36 in Sop Moei, 36 in Khun Yuam, 18 in Mae Sariang, 12 in Pang Mapha, and one in Mae La Noi).

There were no fires in Muang district. Officials and volunteers are working day and night to put out the forest fires but they have been able to reach only those inaccessible areas while the fires in the steep mountain areas continued to blaze, resulting in hundreds of rai of forestland being destroyed.

A fire that had occurred since Saturday in the Mae Surin Waterfall National Park spread to consume a roadside pavilion, a nearby building for receiving visitors, 100-meter-long power lines, as well as wooden signs and flowers at the entrance to the waterfalls on Sunday, park chief Preecha Thajakan said.

Park officials and volunteers built firebreaks to contain the fire in the morning.


Forest fires continue to plague Mae Hong Son

Forest fires continue to plague Mae Hong Son

Breaking News April 21, 2019 12:26

By Tosapol Boonpat
The Nation

Illegal outdoor fires continue to occur in Mae Hong Son province despite the ban and the raging smog crisis.

In recent months, Mae Hong Son has been struggling with haze most of the time. Exposure to serious air pollution has become a threat to the health of locals.

Authorities have blamed outdoor fires as the key cause of smog.

However, illegal outdoor fires continue to be detected.

Satellite images confirmed that there were at least 23 hotspots in Mae Hong Son on Saturday. Of them, 13 were in Sop Moei district.

Kampanart Prachongpim, who heads Mae Hong Son’s forest-fire control division, said on Sunday that teams from several provinces had come to Mae Hong Son to help extinguish forest fires that were often caused by people.

At least, two bushfires extinguished on Saturday were caused by people going into the forest to collect forest produce.

According to him, by the time these forest fires were put out, about nine rai of forest reserves had been destroyed.


Chiang Rai fires mostly contained; locals urged to report arsonists

Chiang Rai fires mostly contained; locals urged to report arsonists

national April 18, 2019

By Natthawat Laping
The Nation

THE HUGE FIRE, which this week turned Doi Jorakhe into an inferno and destroyed more than 1,000 rai (160 hectares) of forestland, has been contained with most hot spots put out, deputy governor Narong Rojjanasothorn said yesterday.

However, the battles against wildfires will continue elsewhere in Chiang Rai, which still suffers from 380 hotspots, Narong said after meeting with the Doi Jorakhe special coordination center for fighting forest fires, located at Wat Pateung in Mae Chan district.

As of 2 am yesterday, 952 hotspots were cited in the upper North (380 in Chiang Rai, 120 in Nan, 106 in Mae Hong Son, 92 in Chiang Mai, 82 in Lampang, 58 in Phayao, 56 in Tak, 52 in Phrae and six in Lamphun), while Myanmar had 3,480 hotspots and Laos 1,800.

Forest fires continued to contribute to dangerous levels of PM2.5 – airborne particulates 2.5 microns or less in diameter – in many parts of the upper North. The Pollution Control Department (PCD) at 9 am put the 24-hour average of PM2.5 at 159 micrograms per cubic meter of air in Tambon Wiang of Muang Chiang Rai, and at 170mcg in Tambon Wiang Phang Kham in Mae Sai district.

As of press time, three of the five fires on Doi Jorakhe had been totally put out, while two other hot spots – forestland near a Mae Chan monastery and the “Pha Toob” forestland in the Taad Thong Waterfall area – were being handled and firebreaks being built to protect communities, Narong said.

Narong also called on people to watch out for those who were sparking the forest fire, so they can be punished. He also noted that Chiang Rai had not experienced extensive forest fires caused by human acts in the past two years. Paying tribute to the hard work of some 600 officials and volunteers who joined the Doi Jorakhe battle, he also noted that two choppers had carried nearly 70,000 liters of water in more than 80 flights to douse flames in hard-to-reach areas.

The Doi Jorakhe wildfire caught public attention as photos of the fire were widely shared on Thai social media. His Majesty the King had graciously seen to it that a mobile kitchen was dispatched from the 37th Military Circle to support the Doi Jorakhe forest firefighters, while members of the public also delivered drinking water and tools to aid the effort.

Chiang Rai still has 380 hotspots to douse, the deputy governor noted. They included Doi Kad Phee in tambon Wawi of Mae Suay district that had started on Tuesday night and spread to the three nearby Tambons of Mae Suay, Mae Prik, and Sri Tham.

In a related development, a 46-year-old man was arrested on Tuesday afternoon in tambon Por of Wiang Kaen district for alleged setting fire to the scrub on his farmland, which spread through 5 rai of forestland.


New fires in the North likely to be arson – Army

New fires in the North likely to be arson – Army

Published on
by Nathawat Laping
Some 1,000 combined professional and volunteer firefighters are battling a major forest fire in the mountainous area overlapping Chiang Mai’s Muang and Mae Chan districts.

The fire started on Sunday night in the Doi Jorakhe area of Tambon Tha Sud in Muang before spreading to Tambon Pa Teung in Mae Chan, a densely populated area and home to Mae Chan Hospital and temples.

As of this morning, the fire had already devastated 1,000 rai of forestland and nearby plantations.

Mae Chan district chief Wandee Ratchomphu led the efforts by 800 state officials and volunteers to put out the fire and prevent it from reaching communities or more forestland in Mae Fah Luang district. A special coordination center was set up at Wat Pateung to dispatch firefighters to the affected areas by first light, attempts to put out the flames in the heavily wooded mountainous area during the night considered dangerous.

Third Army Region deputy commander Major Buncha Duriyapan was also on the scene to help supervise soldiers joining the fire-fighting efforts. The Army brought in a helicopter to provide support to the Protected Area Regional Office 15’s chopper being used to carry water from the three-meter-deep Tham Sua reservoir to douse the flames in hard-to-reach spots.

Buncha also ordered related agencies, especially the police and army, to investigate and identify the person(s) who started this massive fire, saying this was “a strange and unprecedented situation when wildfires erupted all over the province’s mountainous areas simultaneously”.

He said he was convinced that this was a case of arson and not a freak natural incident like a lightning strike.

The Geo-Informatics and Space Technology Development Agency’s fire monitoring system, as of yesterday morning, identified 521 hot spots in the North. Chiang Rai led the pack with 291 hotspots, followed by Nan (57), Lampang (46), Phayao (46), Chiang Mai (44), Tak (15), Mae Hong Son (14), Phrae (6) and Lamphun (2).



Forest fires destroy 2.7 million rai of land whilst Chiang Mai is back on top

Forest fires destroy 2.7 million rai of land whilst Chiang Mai is back on top

Published  on 


By Tossapol Boonpat

Bush fires have devastated nearly 2.7 million rai (there are 2.5 Rai in an Acre) of forests in nine northern provinces.

The Mae Hong Son forest fire and haze control center says that satellite imaging from the Geo-Informatics and Space Technology Development Agency shows that from January 1 to March 16, 2,680,634 rai was destroyed by wildfires.

The devastation included 102,268 rai in Chiang Rai, 374,313 rai in Chiang Mai, 791,301 rai in Tak, 221,300 rai in Nan, 150,995 rai in Phayao, 176,107 rai in Phrae, 203,889 rai in Mae Hong Son, 470,009 rai in Lampang and 190,452 rai in Lamphun.

As of yesterday, the daily satellite image showed Mae Hong Son had 124 hotspots (10 in Pang Mapha, 17 in Pai, 30 in Muang, 16 in Khun Yuam, three in Mae La Noi, 26 in Mae Sariang and 22 in Sop Moei districts).

But a source from the Royal Forest Department says people should not be overly alarmed by such high figures, as the wildfires had swept through dried, flammable materials on the floors of the forests, and most trees will once again start producing new leaves.  The source said the fires had also thinned the hard shells of pods, so when the rains come, seedlings can sprout faster.

Unhealthy levels of smog were again recorded in the nine northern provinces and one province in the Central region, with Chiang Mai once again reaching the dubious honor as the world’s Number One worst polluted city.

Pralong Damrongthai, PCD director-general, said hazardous levels of air pollution were detected in Chiang Mai, Chiang Rai, Lampang, Lamphun, Mae Hong Son, Nan, Phayao, Phrae and Tak provinces, as well as in the Central province of Nakhon Sawan.