Clamour grows for Upper North to be declared ‘smog disaster zone’ as forest fire hot spots top 3,000

Clamour grows for Upper North to be declared ‘smog disaster zone’ as forest fire hot spots top 3,000

By Sakaorat Sirima
The Nation

Calls for the Upper North to be declared a smog disaster zone became louder on Monday, as the haze crisis persisted and the region’s smog-generating forest fires soared to 3,088 hot spots.

Choking in particulate dust, many provinces have now called for urgent donations of N95-grade face masks for public distribution, while schools have installed air-purifiers or even suspended classes for students’ safety.

As some forest fires were reportedly caused by poachers lighting them in their search for puffball mushrooms, Chiang Mai supermarket franchise Rimping confirmed it would no longer sell canned Thai puffball mushrooms until it could be proved that such products were not, in fact, causing forest fires and haze.

Mae Hong Son Chamber of Commerce, meanwhile, is also campaigning against the selling and buying of such mushroom and forest products reportedly obtained by the lighting of forest fires.

The Geo-Informatics and Space Technology Development Agency’s fire-monitoring system cited a satellite image as of 2 am on Monday showing that there were 3,088 hot spots across nine northern provinces.

Mae Hong Son led the pack with 981 hot spots, followed by Chiang Mai (615), Chiang Rai (370), Lampang (302), Nan (219), Phrae (214), Tak (211), Phayao (116) and Lamphun (60).

In tackling multiple forest fires, the Third Army Region’s front command at Chiang Mai’s Kawila Camp coordinated with provincial authorities in an effort to put out the blazes.

The forest-fire situation was particularly bad in Chiang Mai’s Chiang Dao district, with Prakasit Rawiwan, head of Chiang Dao wildlife sanctuary, saying that things had worsened in the past two days.

Multiple spots on Doi Luang Chiang Dao were on fire, with the conflagrations so far having ravaged 100 rai (16 hectares) of forestland, he said.

However, officials have managed to put out two major fires in the Chiang Dao Cave and Pha Bong Cave areas.

Officials were continuing the fire-fighting mission day and night and now had the use a helicopter from the Natural Resource and Environment Ministry to back them up, while other teams were building firebreaks, Prakasit said, expecting the fires inaccessible areas to be under control soon.

Chiang Mai, Chiang Rai and Mae Hong Son on Monday continued their calls for urgent donations of the N95-grade face masks for public distribution.

As Chiang Mai academics urged people to refrain from all outdoor activities and to wear N95-grade masks during this period, several private schools such as Montfort College and Prince Royal’s College installed air-purifiers in classrooms and campaigned for kids to wear the N95-grade masks.

Chiang Rai’s Mae Fah Luang University, meanwhile, suspended classes and all outdoor activities on Monday and Tuesday this week, while spraying water around the campus and opening two conference halls at the E4 multipurpose building as air-purifier-equipped “clean rooms” for students and personnel to seek refuge.

In terms of PM2.5 pollution – airborne particulates 2.5 microns or less in diameter – the Pollution Control Department reported at 9 am on Monday that the levels in nine northern provinces ranged from 44-267 micrograms (mcg) per cubic meter of air.

The Thai safe limit of PM2.5 is 50 mcg.

Worst off were Tambon Wiang Phang Kham in Chiang Rai’s Mae Sai district (267mcg) and Wiang in the province’s Mueang district (188mcg), while Tambon Jong Kham in Mae Hong Son’s Mueang district cited 201mcg, and Chang Pheuk in Mueang Chiang Mai had 129mcg.