Thailand’s forest fires close Mae Hong Son Airport

Smoke forces airlines to reschedule flights

Thailand’s forest fires were so bad, with many parts of Mae Hong Son‘s Muang district covered in such dense smoke Sunday that several airlines rescheduled morning flights.

The local pollution control department in Mae Hong Son reported that PM2.5 – particles of dust less than 2.5 microns in diameter – in the Muang and Pai districts reached 90 micrograms and 105 micrograms.

Forest fires were spotted in 173 locations across the province on Saturday compared to 98 areas on Friday. The fires are clustered around the Muang district, especially in the mountains west of Wat Phra That Doi Kong Mu.

Mae Hong Son is a remote, mountainous province bordering Myanmar. Sparsely populated, Mae Hong Son is ethnically diverse and home to hill tribes such as the Shan and Hmong.

Forest fires had broken out in 800 locations across Mae Hong Son this year, with 250 in the Pai district alone.

Thailand’s upper limit for PM2.5 limit is 50 micrograms. In current conditions, those who are sensitive to air pollution – young children, older people, pregnant women and people with allergies, heart or lung conditions – are extremely likely to experience symptoms like wheezing, coughing, tightness of the chest or difficulty breathing.

Thailand’s forest fires cause significant problems for the local pollution control department which said…

“Firefighters have been deployed to extinguish forest fires, especially in nearby communities.”

Forest fires in Thailand occur during the dry season from December to May with their peak in February-March. In certain extremely dry sites, double burning in one season is common. These surface fires consume surface litter, other loose debris on the forest floor and small vegetation.

There were 831 alerts reported between February 14, 2022, and February 6, this year. This is low compared to previous years going back to 2012.

This time last year, poor visibility caused by haze above Mae Hong Son airport meant that a private plane flying the acting US ambassador Michael Heath cancelled its landing and was forced to return to Chiang Mai.

Bangkok’s air-monitoring apps have been flashing red for weeks, prompting schools to close and city hall to encourage working from home. Face coverings were already commonplace in Bangkok before the pandemic.

Air pollution – euphemistically referred to as “haze” – is a fact of life in many Asian cities; a seasonal event much like flooding. Thailand’s forest fires cause levels of fine particulate matter to peak at this time of year for many reasons, including low-pressure weather systems and farmers burning fields.

Thai officials like to point fingers at neighbouring countries and blame the weather gods.

Thailand's forest fires close Mae Hong Son Airport | News by Thaiger

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Jon Whitman

Jon Whitman is a seasoned journalist and author who has been living and working in Asia for more than two decades. Born and raised in Glasgow, Scotland, Jon has been at the forefront of some of the most important stories coming out of China in the past decade. After a long and successful career in East sia, Jon is now semi-retired and living in the Outer Hebrides. He continues to write and is an avid traveller and photographer, documenting his experiences across the world.