Volunteer, 21, dies defending hometown from northern fires

A file photo of Sitthichai Kongkaewsri-ngam
A file photo of Sitthichai Kongkaewsri-ngam

A young volunteer became the seventh person to be killed by the fires which have been burning for weeks in the north.

Sitthichai Kongkaewsri-ngam, 21 and an ethnic Karen, died Wednesday afternoon trying to keep the flames away from his community in Mae Hong Son’s Khun Yuam district. During the operation, which dozens of volunteers had joined, witnesses said the wind shifted and drove the blaze toward Sitthichai, trapping him in the flames. 

Sitthichai’s father, Lek Kongkaewsri-ngam, said he saw his son had stayed home due to the COVID-19 outbreak. On Wednesday, he saw his son rush out to help put out the fire. After someone told him that it had been extinguished, Lek said that his son still didn’t return home. 

Local authorities gave Lek THB10,000 (US$310) in compensation. 

Sitthichai was the latest victim of the massive fires which have claimed the lives of six others, including park rangers and volunteer firefighters. They have been burning for weeks in several provinces between Chiang Mai and Mae Hong Son. The fire also has killed and displaced an untold number of wildlife.

Public anger has been running high over the government’s inability to fight the fire, though Deputy Prime Minister Prawit Wongsuwan said Tuesday that it was under control.


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