CHIANG MAI, Feb 19 – A forest fire in Chiang Mai is causing low visibility, as northern provinces continue fighting a haze problem with more patients seeking medical treatment for haze-related respiratory illness.
The forest fire at Kanin National Reserved Forest in Chiang Mai’s Hang Dong district on Sunday damaged forested areas along a one kilometre stretch of the mountain range.
As of Sunday afternoon, the fire is not yet under control due to dry weather and mountainous terrain making it hard for operation to put out the flames.
According to local authorities, it was believed that the fire was started by humans – burning for farming or hunting.
Since the beginning of this year, about 200 forest fires occurred in the province, damaging over 1,100 rai (470 acres) of forest land.
Regarding haze pollution in Chiang Mai, local authorities are working to spray water mist in 25 districts and asked for cooperation from local residents to refrain from all kinds of burning.
In a related development, the northernmost province of Chiang Rai has been blanketed by thick haze and dust particles which caused poor visibility.
Airborne dust particles were measured at 164.8 microgrammes per cubic metre in Mae Sai district and 136.5 microgrammes per cubic metre in the provincial seat.
Although the prevailing dust particles which are less than 10 microns are above safety levels, Chiang Rai tourism has yet to be affected, but business operators urged relevant agencies to speed up mapping out measures to tackle the pollution problem.
Operators were afraid that if the haze situation prolongs for one more week, the air pollution will cause illness to more residents and visitors.
So far, an estimated 2,000 residents per day, particularly 1,000 patients from Mae Sai district, have sought medical treatment for respiratory illness related to the smog and particulate-laden atmosphere. The majority of patients were children and the elderly.
Residents were advised to refrain from outdoor exercise and activities, particularly in the morning and the evening as smog cover was close to the ground. Locals were advised to wear masks before going outside.
Meanwhile, heavy haze continued enveloping the northern province of Lamuphun for a fifth consecutive day, Thavorn Thavornkritrat, director of Lamphun Natural Resources and Environment Offices, said on Sunday.
He added that a level of the dust and haze particles prevailing over the province remained critical as the particle levels still exceeded safety standards, posing a health threat to people.
Lamphun on Sunday recorded a level of the dust and haze at 132.42 microgrammes per cubic metre, dropping from Saturday’s report which measured 208.13 microgrammes per cubic metre.
To tackle the problem efficiently, Mr Thavorn said that he ordered relevant agencies to speed up solving the ongoing forest fire problem, explaining that dust and haze would affect health of residents as well as tourism in the long run.
Responding to the health problem, the Public Health Ministry initially delivered 50,000 breathing masks to authorities in eight northern provinces in order to distribute to haze-affected residents, according Wittaya Buranasiri, Public Health Minister.