Fires in Thailand

Fires in Thailand

23 March 2013

MODIS Image of Burma (Myanmar) and Thailand fires,
acquired on March 22, 2013. Source: NASA Earth Observatory
(For detailed location of active fires burning on 22 March 2013, double click on the image)

The Asian monsoon dominates the climate of Southeast Asia. From roughly mid-April to September, it is rainy and hot; from November to mid-March, it is cooler and dry. Late in the dry season, fires both intentional and accidental become widespread as people use burning to clear and maintain agricultural and residential landscapes.

This image of fires burning throughout Burma (Myanmar) and Thailand was acquired on March 22, 2013, by the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) on NASA’s Aqua satellite. MODIS detects fires not from visible smoke plumes, but from thermal infrared energy radiating from the land surface. The heat is invisible in images like this, but the locations where MODIS detected fires are labeled with red dots.

In permanently cultivated (usually lowland) areas, fires are used to burn crop residues and get the land ready for the growing season. In urban and residential areas, people burn leaves, trash, and brush. In the mountains, fires may indicate permanent conversion of forest to agricultural land or they may be associated with shifting cultivation, also known as swidden farming. In this system, patches of forest are cyclically cut down, burned, cultivated, and then left fallow for a time. Secondary forest or other vegetation reclaims the clearing during the fallow period.

The fires in this region have been part of the land management practices for hundreds to thousands of years, and they are not necessarily hazardous…at least not immediately. Fires have a big influence on air quality and human health, greenhouse gas emissions, the carbon cycle, and biodiversity.

“Temperature inversions that cause significant haze to build up near the surface that far exceed regional air quality standards often occur around this time of year,” explained Ritesh Gautam, a NASA atmospheric scientist. “The amount of smoke in the atmosphere usually peaks in March and April, though it depends somewhat on the timing of the monsoon,”

NASA image courtesy Jeff Schmaltz, LANCE MODIS Rapid Response. Caption by Adam Voiland and Rebecca Lindsey.

Aqua – MODIS

MODIS Scene of Thailand fires, acquired on March 23, 2013. Source: NASA Earth Observatory
(For location of active fires burning on 23 March 2013, double click on the image)

This map shows the Fire Weather Index Forecast for Sunday 24 March 2013.
The FWI will remain high in the Chiang Mai Region for the next 7 days.
The black dots represent the fire locations of Friday 22 March 2013.
Source: Global Wildland Fire Early Warning System

Recent Media Reports on Fires in Thailand:


Over 60 Karens killed by brushfire at Thai refugee camp

23 March 2013

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Thailand — More than 60 Karen refugees from Myanmar were killed and over 100 others wounded by a brushfire Friday night which engulfed their refugee camp in northwestern Thailand, police said on Saturday.

The death toll has risen to over 60 from previous 30 as many of the refugees who had been seriously injured were later pronounced dead after the incident.

Police said the brushfire broke out in vicinity of the camp, located in the border province of Mae Hong Son which housed an estimated 3,800 Karen refugees who had fled fighting inside Myanmar. The three-hour blaze spread wide and fast due to the refugees’ houses which were made of bamboo rods and dried banana leaves.

More than 100 Karen refugees were injured, several of whom were reportedly in serious condition. More than 200 houses inside Mae Surin refugee camp in Khun Yuam district were burned off by the dry-season brushfire, the police said.

The Thai authorities evacuated the Karens to safe areas while the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees provided relief aid, including tents for temporary lodging.

 Refugee death toll rises to 35

23 March 2013

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Thailand — 2,300 homeless, more than 100 injured as horror unfolds. The death toll from the inferno on Friday at a refugee camp in Mae Hong Son’s Khun Yuam district has climbed to 35 with one missing as authorities investigate the cause of the fire.

All that was left of the Mae Surin refugee camp on Saturday after Friday night’s blaze that killed at least 35.

Pol Lt Col Decha Phaohom, an investigator with Khun Yuam district police station, said witnesses saw embers being blown by the wind land on the roof of a refugee house which caught fire andquickly spread to other houses.

Investigators believe the blaze may have been caused by a forest fire, not sparked by people cooking as previously reported, Pol Lt Col Decha said.

Dr Paisarn Thanyawinitchakul, the chief of the Mae Hong Son Public Health Office, said 35 people have been confirmed dead, 19 seriously injured, and about 100 suffered minor injuries.

He said the dead victims have been sent to Maharaj Hospital in Chiang Mai for autopsies and assistance may also be sought from the Police General Hospital’s Institute of Forensic Medicine.

Mae Hong Song Governor Naruemon Palawat said Saturday the fire broke out in Zone 1 and Zone 4 of the camp at about 4pm before it was brought under control at about 6pm on Friday.

All of the refugees had been evacuated to a temporary shelter near the camp.

They were not taken to shelters in downtown areas of Khun Yuam district because the law forbids the refugees from moving far away from the camps.

Ms Naruemon said the blaze destroyed about 100 huts, mostly made of bamboo and with dried grass roofs, living quarters for defence volunteers, a school, a medical clinic and two warehouses storing food.

She said most of the victims died at a hospital in the refugee camp because they could not escape the blaze.

The camp, about 90km west of Mae Hong Son, has accommodated about 3,000 Karen refugees for more than 20 years, Ms Naruemon said.

It is one of nine refugee camps on the Thai-Myanmar border set up more than two decades ago to offer asylum for ethnic Karen fleeing the fighting between the Myanmar army and rebel troops.

Hospitals in Mae Hong Son had dispatched teams of medical personnel to tend to the injured.

Temporary shelters for the homeless are being provided by the International Rescue Committee, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, the Jesuit Refugee Service and the International Organisation for Migration.

It is estimated that more than 2,300 refugees are left homeless.

Disaster Prevention and Mitigation Department director-general Chatchai Promlert said he had instructed the department’s regional centres to assist as well.

Donation centres have also been set up in all districts of Mae Hong Song to help the homeless refugees.

Chuan Sirinantporn, director-general of the Provincial Administration Department, said the nine refugee camps supervised by the department along the ThaiMyanmar border are usually safe places and that the blaze was probably an accident.

The nine camps include one in Ratchaburi, one in Kanchanaburi, three in Tak and four in Mae Hong Son.

National police chief Adul Saengsingkaew Saturday ordered the Provincial Police Region 5 to step up efforts to determine the cause of the fire at the camp and to verify the identify of the dead victims.

The United Nations refugee agency said it was rushing to provide plastic sheets, bed mats and other resources to make emergency shelters.

“We are deeply saddened by this tragic incident and doing what we can to provide instant relief,” said the UNHCR’s Thailand representative, Mireille Girard.

Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra, informed of the fire while on an official visit to New Zealand, ordered officials to provide all needed assistance to the victims.

She asked the Interior Ministry, the Disaster Prevention and Mitigation Department and the armed forces to set up an emergency centre to ensure sufficient food, drinking water, medicine and clothing for the affected refugees.

Meanwhile, a fire truck tumbled down a mountain while on its way to help douse the flames at the camp. The accident happened in Pai district, leaving two fire fighters dead and eight injured.

They were sent to Maharaj Hospital in Chiang Mai and Pai district hospital.

Over 90,000 Patients Have Suffered from Pollution Related Illness Since January – Doctors are Concerned

22 March 2013

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Thailand — CityNews – On 22nd March, 10 a.m. at Chiang Mai Public Health Office, Wattana Kanjanakamon, head doctor, reported on the problem in Chiang Mai where, according to him over 90,000 people have suffered from respiratory problems, heart disease, eye infections and dermatological diseases, all related to bad air quality.

“Particles in the smoke mostly are harmful to kids, seniors, and patients who have respiratory diseases. During the morning, 22nd March, the volume of particles was 220 micrograms per cubic metre at Yupparaj Wittayalai School, and 180 – 190 micrograms per cubic metre at Chiang Mai Provincial Office. I am concerned that if the volume reaches 235 micrograms per cubic metre the people of this city will greatly affected. I have already sent letters out to hospitals so they might prepare,” said Wattana.

He advises everyone in Chiang Mai to avoid doing exercises outside, to wear long-sleeved shirts, masks, sunglasses, and avoid staying outdoors. The office has already sent 3,000 masks to local hospitals.

More Media Reports on Fires in Thailand can be found here:


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