Learn from Phu Kradueng fire
A recent bushfire that destroyed vast forest area in Phu Kradueng National Park in the northeastern province of Loei is a wake-up call for better forest management in the park, one of the country's best known destinations.
Park officials and firefighters deserve praise for putting out the fire, reported at 8.30am of Feb 16, in less than two days before it could spread to the park's ecologically sensitive areas. Altogether 3,400 rai of forest on the mountain top was consumed in the blaze which was extinguished about 2am in the following day.
It was said to be the worst fire to hit the park in nearly two decades.
The Phu Kradueng park office is certain it was a man-made incident, pointing the finger at some locals who during a search for forest products might have set fire to the area to collect wild animals and plants.
According to an initial investigation, the fire began at the foot of a hill and rapidly spread up the mountain, fuelled by latex in the pine sap. Strong winds also helped fan the blaze while rugged terrain made the fightfighting mission tough.
Moving to calm public anxiety, the park insisted that only the outer rim of the national park was damaged while the inner core of the compound where wildlife such as chamois, tigers and elephants live and wild plants are concentrated was not disturbed.
It was fortunate that there was no huge fauna loss.
As the Phu Kradueng blaze took place just weeks after the great Australian bushfires, it triggered fears the country might face something similar to the horrific blazes which took hold Down Under in a months-long crisis that killed more than 30 people, and took the lives of many wildlife animals.
New South Wales was hard hit in the fires that began in September and came to an end this month.
The Phu Kradueng authorities said there is a major risk next month of further fires when the weather becomes really dry, while the park remains open to tourists until June before closing until September.
The drought could make the situation worse.
Even if it is found the fire was indeed man-made, those concerned should not stop at that. The authorities must look seriously for preventive measures, especially given concerns the blaze might also have resulted from forest mismanagement.
Some conservationists said Phu Kradueng pine forests might be too dense as the authorities over the course of 30 years have expanded pine plantations in areas that used to be prairie grasslands.
Sasin Chalermlap, secretary-general of the Seub Nakasathien foundation, argued that while the mountain looks more beautiful with green pines, the plantations have changed the Phu Kradueng ecology and, as a side effect, the area is now more susceptible to forest fires which are more dangerous during a time of climate change.
He also argued that pines consume large amounts of underground water, and the large plantations have sucked up water sources on the mountain top.
Before the expansion of the pine plantations, Mr Sasin said, there were a number of small water sources scattered across the area. Sadly there are a few, if any, now.
The conservationist saw the fire as a "blessing in disguise." Instead of replanting pines, he urged the authorities to leave the area to recuperate as grassland, leaving vacant space that will serve as a natural fire break. This is to prevent an Australia-style fire experience.
Mr Sasin's calls merit further discussion which will happen if the park authorities are open to communication.
It's good for park authorities to follow the Australian approach by aiming for long term measures. The Australian government told the media this month that it was to hold a wide-ranging inquiry into the causes of the bushfires which were blamed on a long period of drought.
Thai authorities need to learn lessons of their own and that of Australia as they roll out a fire prevention plan focussing on pro-active measures.
They have to extend cooperation to state and non-state agencies and set up a surveillance system to make sure that the Phu Kradueng park will stand tall and remain safe from forest fires. There must be no complacency in striving for that goal.
Bangkok Post editorial column
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