Chiang Mai: Where Influential Locals Meet to Set Forest Fires

Chiang Mai: Where Influential Locals Meet to Set Forest Fires

21 February 2008

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Chiang Mai, Thailand — Richard Rhodes continues his commentary on the burning fires he is witnessing from the jungle in Thailand. A unique insight into perhaps the single biggest factor behind global warming: forest fires.

A new report suggests that sharks aren’t too keen on rising sea temperatures so they’re off to gobble up everything in the Antarctic Ocean. It’s not only sharks that can’t stand the heat. The animals in the burning jungle where I live can’t wait to escape too. Except they’re the hunted, not the hunters. Two days ago a wild pig was shot in the village as it escaped the fire. Muu Ping, my sister in laws dog would have been delighted. Thais name their dogs after their favourite food. “Muu Ping” means grilled pork.

Over the past month we have been watching the fires from our hilltop. Some days when the breeze is unfavourable we struggle to breath, and last week the fires came within a metre of our house. We called the police and local officials. They both promised help but nobody arrived. My business partner told me how he flew over Burma last week, and the whole of the forest seemed to be on fire. This is a global problem, but how much media coverage is it getting? Who understands what is really going on? Well for the first time we can provide insight to what is happening, at least in the north of Thailand.

Every evening, for over four weeks, we have witnessed smoke rising from the forest. As darkness falls the raging flames, masked by the fire resistant trees, are revealed. It is now clear that the burning has been approached systematically moving from one hill to another, until all the undergrowth has been destroyed.

Last week we filmed this practice on the hillside nearest our house with infrared video. There we saw a group of 5 people, made visible by their torch lights, lined up down wind from the fires. There was also a lot of barking. So the evidence suggests that this is an organized activity, practiced by possibly a single group working to systematically burn the entire local forest area. Indifference by the local authorities and the fear shown by villagers suggests that there are powerful people involved. It looks like hunting with dogs is one element of the ritual, although most insist mushrooms are the real prize.

My wife is very nervous about making too much noise about this. We have two small kids and you might recall ourdog has already been shot by one of the locals. So I have been muzzled for now. I just hope Environmental Graffiti doesn’t have many readers from the jungles of northern Thailand!

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