New rash of forest fires in the North Thailand likely to be arson, Army claims

CHIANG RAI, Thailand (The Nation/ANN) - Some Chiang Rai districts likened to a scene from an apocalypse movie, as 1,000 rai of forests and farms burn.

Some 1,000 officials and volunteers have joined up to battle a major forest fire, which turned the mountainous area overlapping Chiang Rai’s Muang and Mae Chan districts into an inferno that brings to mind scenes in apocalypse movies.
The fire started on Sunday night in Doi Jorakhe area of tambon Tha Sud in Muang district before spreading to tambon Pa Teung in Mae Chan, a densely populated area and home to Mae Chan Hospital and temples. By yesterday morning, the fire had damaged 1,000 rai (160 hectares) of forestland and nearby farms.
Mae Chan district chief Wandee Ratchomphu led 800 state officials and volunteers to prevent the fire from reaching communities or more forestland in Mae Fa Luang district. A special coordination centre was set up at Wat Pateung to dispatch firefighters by first light. 
Third Army Region deputy commander Major Buncha Duriyapan was on the scene to supervise soldiers joining the efforts. The Army brought in a helicopter to provide support to the Protected Area Regional Office 15’s chopper, which was being used to drop water on flames in hard-to-reach spots.
Buncha also ordered related agencies, especially the police and Army, to investigate and identify the person(s) who started this massive fire, saying this was “a strange and unprecedented situation when wildfires erupted all over the province’s mountainous areas simultaneously”. 
He said he was convinced that this was a case of arson and not a freak natural incident like a lightening strike. 
The Geo-Informatics and Space Technology Development Agency’s fire-monitoring system as of 2.33am yesterday identified 521 hot spots in the North. Chiang Rai led the pack with 291 hotspots, followed by Nan (57), Lampang (46), Phayao (46), Chiang Mai (44), Tak (15), Mae Hong Son (14), Phrae (6) and Lamphun (2).
Meanwhile, local residents joined authorities and rescuers in trying to put out fires in community forests in Phayao’s Muang district, which started several days ago. 
The team brought the fire under control in the district’s Moo 6 of tambon Champawai by 8pm on Sunday, but not before it had already destroyed about 10 rai of community forest.

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