Smoke from forest fires caused severe health problems last year so villagers are taking action

Smoke from forest fires caused severe health problems last year so villagers are taking action

08 March 2011

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Thailand — Villagers badly affected by haze from a forest fire last year have put in place measures to prevent a repeat.

Ban Hua Doi is one of 84 villages under the Royal Forest Department’s pilot project to increase residents’ powers in forest fire control efforts.

Ban Hua Doi head Prasit Thepsing, 61, said many residents suffered severe health problems when the village was blanketed by the haze last year.

Causes of forest fires include the practice by hunters of setting blazes to flush out wild animals, and the scorching of bush to encourage the growth of mushrooms and certain wild vegetables.

The community sees a yearly average of about 30 forest fires.

“We want to avoid an repeat of such a bad experience, so we decided to come up with preventive measures,” Mr Prasit said.

Under the department’s forest fire control project, villagers would be trained by forestry officials on how to prevent outbreaks. With recommendations from the officials, the villagers have set up a forest fire patrol team, built an observation tower and erected a two-kilometre firebreak to prevent bushfires from spreading from the forest to the village.

The villagers have also made tools for collecting dry leaves, which are major contributors to fire, and using them as fertiliser.

“These measures work. We are already in the dry season, but there have been no major forest fire incidents so far,” Mr Prasit said.

Kammon Komkai, a 61-year-old villager, said if a fire breaks out, the firewatch team would announce through the community’s loudspeaker the need to mobilise residents for a fire-fighting operation.

“If it is beyond their capacity [to extinguish the bushfire], we will call for back up from the authorities,” Mr Kammon said.

Fewer forest fires would allow wild plants to grow and would bolster water resources, he said.

Pichit Sombatmak, director of Chiang Rai’s forest management office, said cooperation between the locals and authorities was key to reducing the impacts of forest fires and resultant hazes.

Last year, the level of small dust particles in the air in this northern province was measured at 272.5 microgrammes per cubic metre (ug/cu m) as a result of widespread forest fires. The figure was more than twice the acknowledged safe standard of 120 ug/cu m.

The number of forest fires reported in Chiang Rai province rose from 268 in 2006 to 296 last year, destroying more than 1,500 rai of forest, the Royal Forest Department said.

Adisak Dangskul, chief of Chiang Rai’s forest fire control unit, said during the dry season from November to May, villagers were required to inform authorities if they wanted to burn anything on their land.

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