Thailand mobilised all its resources yesterday to combat the haze crisis in the North, which threatens to be the worst in recent history, with air pollution in some parts of Chiang Ri province already three times beyond safety limits.
The situation has worsened to the point that several military aircraft, including two Chinooks from Singapore, are actively spraying the area with water in a bid to reduce the smog.
The Thai-Myanmar Joint Border Committee will convene a meeting in Chiang Rai's Mae Sai district to discuss the smog problem today. The air pollution in this district stood at 280 micrograms of particulate matter per cubic metre of air yesterday.
The particulate matter is less than less than 10 microns in diameter (PM10).
The amount of PM10 per cubic metre of air was also alarmingly high at 383mcg in Chiang Rai's Muang district between 7am and 9am yesterday.
The amount of PM10 should never exceed 120mcg per cubic metre of air.
"We are now seriously advising people to wear face masks when going outside," Chiang Rai's disaster-prevention-and-mitigation chief Sawang Momdee said.
Thick smog reduced visibility on the road to just 500 metres, though it did not affect flight services to and from the province yesterday. Chiang Rai Airport has installed extra lighting on its runway to improve visibility.
The Pollution Control Department said the situation will worsen today due to overall weather conditions, adding that the amount of PM10 will most likely rise in all eight smog-hit provinces in the North by between 2 and 8 per cent.
Apart from Chiang Rai, the provinces of Mae Hong Son, Chiang Mai, Phayao, Nan, Lampang, Phrae and Uttaradit are also struggling with air pollution.
Royal Thai Air Force (RTAF) spokesman ACM Monthon Satchukorn said yesterday that Singapore Air Force, which is taking part in Cope Tiger 2015 joint military exercises, will deploy its two Chinook helicopters to help Thailand deal with the smog and forest-fire problem. These helicopters will join the several that Thailand's armed forces have deployed for the mission.
In a Facebook post, Singapore Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen said, "It [the Chinooks] will be equipped with a 5,000-litre water bucket from the Singapore Civil Defence Force.
"Let's support our SAF men and women who are tasked for this mission - that they will do their job well and keep safe."
According to the Royal Thai Army (RTA) deputy spokesperson Colonel Sirichan Ngathong, relevant authorities are now mobilising resources to tackle the smog problem.
Haze was visible to the naked eye in Chiang Mai province yesterday, with many tourists complaining.
"I came up here to enjoy the views, but I can't see anything," Pares Inta, who was at the Phra That Doi Kham viewpoint in Chiang Mai, said.
Another tourist, Suprapa Chaykarn, said tourists usually headed to Chiang Mai in the hope of getting fresh air.
"But the province is now covered with smog and pollution. That's why people are reluctant to visit Chiang Mai at the moment."
PM10 readings in Chiang Mai province hit 235mcg yesterday.
However, Lai-ad Bungsrithong, president of Thai Hotel Association Northern Chapter, said the heavy smog did not affect tourism in Chiang Mai much because many hotels are 70 to 75 per cent full - similar to the same period last year.
She also said tourists had not cancelled bookings, though there has been a slight drop in new bookings.