Thailand–– Wildfires in a protected peat swamp forest in the South – both on and below the surface – are proving tough to extinguish despite significant efforts by hundreds of fire-fighters over recent weeks.
About 1,600 forest fire-fighters have been deployed from national parks across the country to try to put out the fires, which have destroyed over 20,000 rai of protected forestland in Nakhon Si Thammarat and Phatthalung.
Thanakorn Raktham, of the Royal-initiated Pak Phanang River Basin Development Project Fire Control Station, said fire-fighters had to lug a long rubber water hose, plus large and medium-sized water pumps, to inject large amounts of water to put out the smouldering subsurface fire.
They also had to build a barrier to limit the fire’s spread and dredge a canal to bring water to the burning peat swamp forest.
“They [forest fire-fighters] have to carry a rubber water tube with them more than one kilometre deep in the peat-swamp forest to put out the fires,” he said.
“It isn’t easy for fire-fighters to control the fire. Sometimes they get lost going through the forest. Sometimes they have to spend a lot of time getting over many fallen trees. Sometimes they have to travel by boat. If we could not go deep inside the forest that would mean we’d have few chances to control the fire.”
The fire in the peat swamp was caused by agricultural activity by local people. They build fires to cook lunch while seeking forest products in the peat swamp. Some used fire to burn their farms and palm plantations. These then grew and spread to nearby protected peat swampland. After the forest reserves were damaged, they were keen to occupy the land.
A prolonged drought, starting in June, was another factor that made the forest vulnerable because the water level had dropped to 20 centimetres underground.
Chai Suwanchart, chief of the Wildlife Non-hunting Area Office, said he had sent over 400 fire-fighters to control the blaze in Klong Yuan Forest Reserve and Ta Lay Noi Wildlife Non-hunting Area in Kuan Khanun district in Phatthalung. About 400 rai of protected peat-swamp forest had been destroyed in these areas.
“We expect that if there is no more forest fire in the area, the situation will get better,” he said.
Nation photographer Thanis Sudto, who observed the fire in Nakhon Si Thammarat and Phatthalung, said many fire-fighters did not wear protective equipment despite the danger of fire in the peat swamp. “They were just wearing cargo pants, boots and T-shirts,” he said. “They have to spend all day and all night to put out a fire in the area but there are no smoke-prevention masks or goggles available for them.”