Out of control: Thailand chokes and blazes as 5,500+ fires burn

Government workers hand out face masks to residents in Chiang Rai province. Photo: Chiang Rai Provincial Office
Government workers hand out face masks to residents in Chiang Rai province. Photo: Chiang Rai Provincial Office

Thailand’s northern region today continued to suffer severe air pollution and spreading fires.

Thousands of northern residents have been hospitalized due to air pollution, which has been blanketed in increasingly hazardous levels of smog.

In a one-week period ending Saturday, nearly 3,500 residents were hospitalized for respiratory problems in Chiang Rai province alone. Most reported suffering respiratory symptoms such as sore throats and nasal irritation.

Residents have gathered to demand action. People in Chiang Rai’s Mae Sai district gathered Monday in front of the district office to demand the government address the agricultural burning and related air pollution problems. 

Chiang Rai authorities on Monday were seen handing out face masks to residents and motorists. Workers were dispatched to spray water from hoses in a performative but futile bid to reduce the smog. Residents have been told to avoid outdoor activities. 

Varawuth Silpa-archa, minister of Natural Resources and Environment said the government may have to impose temporary “harsh” measures including a curfew to prevent farmers from burning their fields. 

“We don’t want to impose strict measures, but if eventually people do not cooperate [by burning] then we have to take extreme measures,” Varawuth said. 

Fire trucks spray water in Chiang Rai. Photo: Chiang Rai Provincial Office

Some national parks in northern Thailand have been ordered temporarily closed to tourists due to the continuously worsening smoke and fires. Popular destinations like Phu Chi Fah National Park in Chiang Rai have been closed due to fire conditions until the “situation is back to normal again.”

In recent days, places such as Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai have ranked the worst in air pollution worldwide. 

On Sunday, the alarming number of fires feeding the sky with particulate pollutants rose to more than 5,500, setting a new one-day record in the five years since the north has choked on seasonal smog and smoke. 

Satellite data from the Thai space science agency showed 5,572 hotspots were detected nationwide on Sunday, the highest number recorded in five years. The top three provinces with the most hotspots were Nan (638), Mae Hong Son (558), and Uttaradit (430).


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