Chiang Mai: The haze situation in the North this year could be the worst in nearly two decades judging by the situation in Indonesia where widespread forest fires have broken out due to the El Nino weather phenomenon, an expert has warned.
Siri Akaakara, director of the Forest Fire Prevention and Suppression Office, said that according to the Department of National Parks, Wildlife and Plant Conservation, fires in Indonesia last year razed 30 million rai of forest due to the influence of El Nino.
In 1998, the El Nino effect caused Indonesia to lose 20 million rai of forest while in that same year Thailand also lost 700,000 rai.
Mr Siri said the pattern of 1998 could repeat itself this year because Thailand is also suffering the effects of El Nino.
"The pattern should remind us of the possibility of severe haze this year," he said.
He said that in 1998 forest fires hit many areas, including the Huai Kha Khaeng Wildlife Sanctuary in Uthai Thani province, Khao Yai National Park in Nakhon Ratchasima province, Doi Inthanond National Park in Chiang Mai and Phukradung National Park in Loei province.
Another key factor determining how bad the haze will be and how long it will last is low atmospheric pressure, Mr Siri said.
If there is low pressure, smog cannot disperse easily and will stay in the air longer than usual, raising the level of particulate matter, he said.
State agencies are striving to limit the number of forest fires in the North and the department last year banned people from entering forests without permission to prevent any man-made fires in forest zones.
The latest information from the Department of Pollution Control showed the number of times haze exceeded the safety standard this year is much higher than last year.
Last year, the number of days when haze was above safety levels between Jan 1-Feb 24 totalled only seven, compared with 25 in the same period this year.