Wildfire season is ‘likely to be severe’

Wildfire season is ‘likely to be severe’

6 December 2008

published by www.bangkokpost.com

Thailand — Forestry officials are warning the danger of wildfires in the dry season is likely to be extremely high because of drier-than-usual weather.

The end of the La Nina weather phenomenon this month will make forests like tinderboxes, severely increasing the risk of wildfires, said Siri Aka-akara, director of the Forest Fire Control Division.

The La Nina phenomenon is characterised by unusually cold ocean temperatures in the equatorial Pacific. It brings humidity from the sea to the land, leading to a sharp rise in rainfall.

The US Climate Prediction Centre has predicted the La Nina influence will start to ease around the middle of the month, resulting in less rainfall and drought in several areas near the Pacific Ocean.

That will make the next forest fire season more severe than last year.

The number of potential forest fire hotspots will likely skyrocket, Mr Siri said.

”The peak period that we need to closely monitor is between February and March, when there will be less humidity in the air.

”It is also a period when people burn the bush to collect bamboo shoots and other wild products,” he said.

According to division records, there were around 5,570 forest fires during the previous dry season between late December and April.

Over 70,000 rai of forest land was affected.

Chiang Mai province had the highest number of forest fires, which ravaged 9,400 rai, followed by Lamphun (2,600 rai), and Mae Hong Son (2,400 rai).

An average of 130,000 rai of forest land is destroyed by forest fires each year, Mr Siri said.

Fewer than usual forest fires allow dry leaves to accumulate on forest floors, providing extra fuel when an outbreak hits.

A recent survey found the amount of dry leaves in forests had increased by 45% from 2,730 kilogrammes per hectare to 4,000, Mr Siri said.

Asked if the haze problem caused by wildfires will be critical next year, Mr Siri said it would depend on weather conditions.

Last year, the northern provinces were badly affected by haze pollution from widespread forest fires.

Residents were told to avoid outdoor activities and had to wear face masks to protect themselves from the air pollution.

The government has earmarked around 260 million baht for the National Park, Wildlife and Plant Conservation Department to cope with forest fires.

The department complained that the budget was sufficient for fire prevention and response only in 20% of the country’s forests.

The department will launch a fresh forest fire prevention campaign next year in 17 northern provinces.

”We want people to learn how to prevent and solve the problem. Local participation and awareness of the need to protect the forests are key factors in us being able to minimise fires,” Mr Siri said.

He added that human activities were the main cause of forest fires.

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