Chiang Mai appeals for bushfire support

Chiang Mai appeals for bushfire support

Chiang Mai's provincial governor, Charoenrit Sanguansat, is asking volunteers to do what they can -- including drive off-road and fly their drones -- to help locate fire hotspots in the province, as widespread forest fires have caused air quality there to plummet.

"We need volunteers to do walking surveys. We need them to drive cars, ride motorcycles and fly drones to pinpoint the exact location of the fires so we can quickly dispatch firefighters to them," he said yesterday.

Thailand's second-largest province is struggling to battle hundreds of bushfires which have raged over the past week, with 444 hotspots detected across 20 districts yesterday.

In hard-hit Phrao district, 75 active hotspots have sent PM2.5 levels soaring to 418 microgrammes per cubic metre (µg/m³), Mr Charoenrit said yesterday.

According to the Pollution Control Department, PM2.5 readings below 50µg/m³ are considered safe, while the World Health Organization sets the threshold at 25µg/m³.

Because of the fires, residents all across Chiang Mai have had to suffer from severe air pollution.

According to Chiang Mai University's Climate Change Data Centre, the concentration of fine dust around Omkoi Hospital reached 195µg/m³ yesterday, while its air quality monitoring station at Tha Phae Gate and the 700-Year Stadium returned readings of 159 and 171µg/m³ respectively.

The governor said that he has already asked the Royal Thai Air Force to send its aircraft to spray water to help settle the dust over Chiang Mai.

Firefighting aircraft have been deployed in Phrao district since Saturday, said Mr Charoenrit. However, he said the fires have continued as many of the hotspots are located in hard-to-reach mountainous areas.

In the North, bushfires have been known as a seasonal problem for over a decade, and land-clearing for agriculture has been blamed as the cause.

Mr Charoenrit said firefighting operations alone won't solve the problem because it doesn't address its root cause. "The bushfires are caused by arson and open burning," he insisted.

In this month alone, officials have arrested 277 arsonists and collected up to 70,000 baht in fines.

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