Doi Suthep Forest Fire
Last month I posted a blog asking whether outdoor activities are safe during burning season and it is interesting that since then the BBC released an interested article called Air pollution: Benefits of cycling and walking outweigh harms – study suggesting that even in a city as polluted as Delhi the pros of exercise outweigh the dangers from pollution.
I closed the previous blog (you can read by clicking here) by mentioning that the government may act when there is enough media attention and it seems it may have come to a head recently with the Doi Suthep forest fire on May 8th 2016. The forest fire on Doi Suthep started around 2pm according to media reports with the local authority only being notified at 5pm.
By 8pm there were firetrucks, army personnel and local media buzzing around the Dhamma center near the convention center as this was perhaps the closest point of the fire that could be reached by road. The flames were clearly visible and getting closer and closer to houses at the foot of Doi Suthep, including my own and people were anxiously waiting to the go ahead to evacuate in some areas.
According to Khao Sod the fire raged for 12 hours before being bought under control by over 100 firefighters and volunteers and it didn’t take long before the blame being solely put on foragers in the forest. A recent article in the Bangkok Post, states that deputy Chiang Mai governor Mongkon Suksai said that an initial investigation found several villagers lit the fire to clear land to collect wild vegetables. The villagers are accused of lighting fires in four locations around the same time which merged to burn around 290 rai.
As of 2pm on the 9th May there were plumes of smoke dotted all over Doi Suthep and helicopters continued to drop water on areas still burning however for now the worst is over. I also cycled up the hill from the convention center to see the damage caused, you can see some photos at the bottom of this blog.
So what are the consequences of forest fires in Chiang Mai? Well aside from the devastation caused to the flora and fauna it increases smog levels in the surrounding area. It is interesting that fires have been burning since January but people only take note when it is on their doorstep and it is the first time large publications have reported on it. I recently attended an event organized by Bye Bye Smog whom wanted to raise awareness of the smog issues in the North via a peaceful demonstration in the old town. The first demonstration attracted 100’s of people and along with it a lot of media exposure.
As to whether this will have any effect at all remains to be seen. Farmers and people who live in the forest have little or no exposure to such events and have little idea about the consequences about what they are doing so it requires a lot more in terms of education to show the huge problem the forest fires are causing. The Doi Suthep forest fire generated huge amounts of media coverage mainly because it was so close to the city however the sad fact is that somewhere in Chiang Mai there are dozens of fires burning as I write this. Lets hope the media continue to give attention to this issue hopefully paving the way for a solution.