The northern province of Mae Hong Son continued to see forest fires at the weekend, with one of them almost reaching a revered Guan Yin shrine in Muang district Sunday night, officials said.
A fire broke out in the forest behind the shrine on the Mae Hong Son bypass in Ban Mai Ngae village of Tambon Pang Moo at 7pm, surprising and scaring villagers and motorists.
Fire fighters quickly dug a buffer zone about 10 metres from the shrine and houses to prevent the blaze from spreading while fire engines moved in to douse the flames.
Almost simultaneously, another fire broke out on a mountaintop near Ban Mai Ngae and spread to Ban Pong Daeng and Ban Soppong villages, damaging some 50 rai of forest.
Kampanat Prajongpim, chief of the Mae Sariang forest fire station, said the fires were apparently started by local villagers burning weeds and leaves.
Kampanat added that northern province continued to be hit with multiple fires because the villagers wanted to burn the forests in the hope of promoting growth of mushrooms when the rains come.
Kampanat said his station had to dispatch officials to work with fire fighters of the Forestry Department and troops and fire fighters of the Muang Mae Hong Son Municipality to fight the blazes around Muang district. He reiterated that the fires were set intentionally by certain locals.
Tambon Pang Moo and Tambon Pha Pong were the hardest hit by the forest fires.
Forest fires in Mae Hong Son intensified after the government lifted a ban on weed burning on April 30. After the ban ended, farmers burned their fields, causing a rise in smog and air pollution.
As of 9 am Monday, the amount of PM2.5 – particles of no more than 2.5 millimetres in diameter – in Tambon Jongkham was measured at 36 micrograms per cubic metre of air, lower than the safe limit of no more than 50 micrograms per cubic metre of air. The level has risen gradually from the 23 micograms measured on May 4.