Forest fire ruled out as death toll hits 37

Forest fire ruled out as death toll hits 37

24 March 2013

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Thailand —  Thousands of residents returned home Sunday night after a wildfire that grew to 125 acres forced them to be evacuated in Fort Pierce, according to Florida Forest Service spokeswoman Melissa Yunas.

The fire forced the evacuation of about 2,500 people and as of this morning is about 90 percent contained. Officials said the fire is still active within a marsh, but is not affecting any homes. Firefighters will be returning around 9 a.m.

The wildfire damaged at least nine homes and several power lines in the area.

Florida Power and Light officials said less than 100 people are without power this morning because of damaged lines, but crews should be done fixing those lines very soon.

The blaze started Sunday evening at the St. Lucie County Airport and burned on both sides of Indrio Road. At one point the fire jumped U.S. 1 toward Harbor Branch.

U.S. 1 re-opened around 6:50 p.m.

The blaze grew rapidly, fueled by high winds with gusts of 32 mph. As of 7:40 p.m., the fire was 90 percent contained, Yunas said.

Residents in the Indian Pines Golf Club located on the Turnpike Feeder Road also were evacuated. About 200 residences in total were evacuated.

Rescue workers warned returning residents to be careful since there are downed power lines and hot spots still burning.

According to FPL spokesperson Sarah Gate, at least two crews were on the scene Sunday evening ready to repair or replace the damaged power lines. Each crew was made up of two to three people.

Evacuated residents were assisted by the Red Cross at the St. Lucie County Sheriff’s Office substation in the Indrio Crossings Plaza, located at 4844 N. Kings Highway.

A forestry helicopter assisted in battling the fire.

The 37 dead victims comprise 21 males and 16 females. Ten of the dead were children. Nineteen of the injured refugees were seriously hurt.

Pol Maj Gen Chamnan Ruadraew, deputy commander of the Provincial Police Region 5, said officials were working to identify the dead. A Christian burial rite was held for the victims Sunday.

More than 400 makeshift houses at the Mae Surin camp were ruined, leaving more than 2,300 refugees homeless.

Two firefighters were also killed and five others seriously injured as they raced to tackle the Mae Surin blaze when the six-wheel lorry they were travelling in plunged into a ravine between kilometre markers 83 and 84 in Pai district.

The camp is one of nine refugee camps on the Thai-Myanmar border set up more than two decades ago to offer asylum to ethnic Karen fleeing the fighting between the Myanmar army and rebel troops.

Governor Naruemon said the refugees’ houses will be rebuilt on their original location because a stream flows through the area year-round.

The refugees themselves also had no desire to move, she said. Construction of the houses is expected to be completed in a month.

Humanitarian assistance from the state and private sectors continues to pour in for the refugees, with officials from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees preparing food.

Soldiers from the Armed Forces Development Command have set up kitchens at Khun Yuam municipality office. More than 1,000 packets of food were taken to the camp by helicopter.

Public Health Minister Pradit Sintawanarong Sunday said the ministry had sent disease control units to curb the spread of malaria at a temporary shelter set up nearby to house the refugees left homeless by the fire.

Psychiatrists have also been sent to help refugees affected by the blaze and a team of sanitation officials has been assigned to ensure proper hygienic conditions at the shelter.

Haze and thick smoke from forest fires in the region grounded a planned helicopter trip to the stricken camp Sunday morning by a group of officials led by Interior Minister Charupong Ruangsuwan and Chatchai Promlert, director-general of the Disaster Prevention and Mitigation Department.

The officials had planned to fly from Chiang Mai to visit the camp.

Meanwhile, five fire fighters are in hospital after getting hurt tackling forest fires. Four are being treated at Nakornping Hospital and one is being treated at Maharaj Nakorn Chiang Mai Hospital.

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