Thailand is under attack by another extreme natural disaster _ forest fires, which have flared up almost 3,000 times and damaged more than 65,000 rai of timbered land in the past four months.
The annual blazes are likely to devastate the tropical forest for at least another three months. The wet season was due in June.
Natural Resources and Environment Minister Suvit Khunkitti yesterday called on villagers living near forests, people who collect forest products, and campers to refrain from setting fires of any kind in forest areas.
Mr Suvit on Friday made an inspection trip to Huay Kha Kaeng wildlife sanctuary in Uthai Thani province, where a forest fire was burning. The spreading blaze was likely to be under control in a few days, he said.
Forest firefighters have been sent to all hot-spot areas, where the danger was high, including the western forest complex and forests in the North and Northeast.
The Department of National Park, Wildlife and Plant Conservation last October warned that this year’s forest fire season was likely to start earlier than normal and last longer, until June.
Based on reports from the United States Climate Prediction Centre, the department also predicts this year’s forest fires would be the most severe since 1998 due to the El Nino weather phenomenon that brings drought to many Asia-Pacific countries.
Accumulation of dry leaves, branches and grass over the years would also worsen the situation.
The Southeast Asia Fire Danger Rating System currently ranks Thailand as “extreme”, which means the risk of fire is high and that when they occur the flames are likely to be fierce and difficult to control. It recommends large fire control breaks and that complete burning restrictions be put in place.
The system also detects disaster-level drought conditions in Thailand, Laos, Vietnam and the north Philippines.
The system is part of the Regional Haze Action Plan, started by Southeast Asian environment ministers after extensive forest fires in Indonesia caused widespread haze in the region in 1997 and 1998.
Run by the Malaysian Meteorological Service, the system monitors and issues warnings about forest fires in the region.
In Chiang Mai, a local environmentalist said he was seeing more serious and frequent forest fires than last year.
“The sky is always covered with haze. Most natural streams run dry because the fires have dried up ground water sources in the forest. Water shortage is the most serious problem during the forest fire season,” said Nikhom Puttha, a leader of a conservation group in Chiang Dao district.
He said the department failed to improve its forest fire control services, which avoided working with local communities.
“The department should work harder in seeking cooperation from the local people in complying with the government’s ban on burning activities in the dry season.”
Villagers’ burning activities were a major cause of forest fires in the North, said Mr Nikhom.
Sumatra HotspotsHigh Resolution NOAA Image of Sumatra
NOAA Summary for January 2005
This NOAA hotspot summary is showing high numbers of fires in Sumatra in January 2005
I. Monitoring of Smoke-Haze and Active Fires (land-use fires and wildfires)
Regional Smoke-Haze Monitoring
The Meteorological Division of the Singapore National Environment Agency provides a daily updated map showing active fires (land-use fires, wildfires), smoke haze and surface wind directions within the South East Asian region.
Latest map of surfacewinds and smoke haze/hot spots observed over cloud-free areas. (Source: http://app.nea.gov.sg/cms/htdocs/article.asp?pid=1195)
Fire Activity Monitoring in Borneo (Kalimantan, Sabah, Sarawak)
The Integrated Forest Fire Management Project (IFFM) in Samarinda provides regulary updatedmaps generated by NOAA-AVHRR showing active land-use fires and wildfires inBrunei and the Indonesian and Malaysian provinces on BorneoIsland.
Latest fire overview map for Borneo: 15 December 2004 (Source: IFFM FireMaps)
Fire Activity Monitoring in South Sumatra
The South Sumatra Forest Fire Management Project provides regular fire activity maps based on the products of the MODIS Rapid Response System: http://www.ssffmp.or.id/ssffmp/fwi-2.asp?id=2
II. Fire Weather and Fire Danger Monitoring and Early Warning
Regional Fire Weather
The Regional South East Asia Fire Danger Rating System (SEA FDRS) is a joint effort between the Canadian Forest Service (CFS) and the Malaysian Meteorological Service (MMS), supported by the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA). Daily updated SEA Fire Danger Rating can be downloaded on the following website of MMS, and background information on the project can be found at the SEA FDRS Project website.
Latest example of a SEA FDRS product: The Fire Weather Index (FWI) values shown on the map are numerical ratings offire intensity. Information from the Initial Spread Index (ISI) and Build Up Index (BUI) iscombined to provide a numerical rating of fire intensity. This index is used to indicate the difficulty of fire control based on the headfire intensity and fire fighting capability.
Information on the Indonesian Fire Danger Rating System (Indonesian FDRS) is provided by the Indonesian Bureau of Meteorology and Geophysics (BMG) in Jakarta. The site provides information for fire managers working to prevent and control vegetation fires and smoke in Indonesia. This link points to the English version; a Bahasa Indonesian version can be found there as well: http://www.bmg.go.id:8080/fdrs/index_e.html.
Fire Weather Index (FWI) forecast for thisweek (left) and the predictedFWI total for next month (right) for the Western Pacific (1-3) and the PacificOcean (4-6) regions. The weekly total forecast and the monthly forecasted total refer to 00:00 hrsUTC,which is local noon at dateline (180° longitude). Forecast time is 12:00 hrsnoon UTC (Greenwich)corresponding to local evening time in mainland and insular SE Asia. (Source: ECPCFire Weather Index Forecast)