Firefighters, who have fought over 6,500 forest fires over the past six months, are currently enjoying a welcome break thanks to an increase in rainfall.
The number of forest fires has fallen after cloud seeding operations appear to have successfully led to rainfall in several parts of the country, said Suwat Singhaphan, director-general of the National Park, Wildlife and Plant Conservation Department.
Effective prevention measures have also played a key role in limiting forest fires, Mr Suwat said.
The Ministry of Agriculture and Cooperatives reported on Saturday that cloud seeding operations had led to rainfall in 35 provinces, providing about 20.4 million cubic metres of water.
“The situation is not as serious as we had predicted,” Mr Suwat said. “The total area damaged by forest fires this year is likely to be lower than last year,” he said.
The department had predicted that forest fires this year would be the worst for six years.
In 2004, 10,544 forest fires were recorded, which destroyed over 21,000 raI of forestry.
Huay Kha Khaeng wildlife sanctuary, a “hot spot” for forest fires, had not recorded a blaze since March 13. This was attributed to greater humidity amid more rainfall, said Banchong Kamlangka, chief of the Nakhon Sawan provincial natural resources office’s forest fire unit.
In the six-month period prior to March 13, over 20,000 rai of the world famous, mega-diverse forest located in Huay Kha Khaeng was destroyed in 84 incidents of forest fires, Mr Banchong said. In the whole of 2004, forest fires destroyed about 40,000 rai of the sanctuary, he said.
Mr Banchong said that forest dwellers and local villagers were largely to blame for the blazes. The most common reasons fires were started were as part of a hunting trip, when collecting wild produce or for “slash and burn” agricultural techniques, he said.
Fires across the country had destroyed over 136,000 rai of forest land so far this year, he said. The season for forest fires this year would likely last until June, about a month longer than normal, according to a report from the National Park, Wildlife and Plant Conservation Department.
The province most severely affected by forest fires is Chiang Mai, where 1,309 blazes were recorded over the past six months, followed by Chaiyaphum (429), Mae Hong Son (415), and Phitsanulok (337).
Meanwhile, the Meteorological Department reported that severe drought caused by the El Nino phenomenon had been easing as sea-surface temperature anomalies in the Pacific Ocean had decreased.
However, the department warned that the forest fire situation was not yet secure. Relevant agencies should still be on alert and related activities must be strictly controlled near forest areas. Muntana Brikshavana, director of the Meteorological Development Bureau, said Thailand was entering the peak period of the dry season, which meant that there was a strong possibility of major forest fires.