BANGKOK - Residents in Tambon Praeksa in Samut Prakan were forced to rush to grab their belongings and flee after a massive fire broke out at a garbage dump near their homes.
Inspectors from the Pollution Control Department (PCD) had advised locals to evacuate after finding sulphur dioxide levels at five times higher than normal.
Smog caused by the huge fire at the garbage dump covered at least three housing estates near the site.
Local residents had to wear face-masks to avoid the worst of the pollution.
"This is the first time in my life that I have experienced a terrible incident like this," Kudan Boonnontae, 62, said.
After learning that a huge fire had broken out at the dump, she had to evacuate from her home and stay at the Praeksa Administrative Organisation building on Sunday night.
Another local resident, Suthep Montralak, 55, had gathered his belongings and took his family to stay at a relative's house.
"I cannot stay here. No one can breathe," he said.
Only a few cars were running on local roads. Many drivers had to turn on their car's front lights due to the low visibility.
Dozens of ambulances were transferring residents suffering from chronic diseases for treatment at nearby hospitals, while fire engines were deployed to stop the fire.
Samut Prakan Governor Kanit Iamrahong said people living in three housing estates within a 500-metre radius from the burning dump had been advised to evacuate.
"No one is staying there," he said.
'It will take 3 to 4 days'
Provincial authorities expected it would take at least three to four days to stop the fire.
Meanwhile, smog had spread over a 5km area south of the site, Kanit said.
Jirawut Jiamsakul, an inspector from the Department, visited the area and measured the level of carbon monoxide, sulphur dioxide and volatile organic compounds (VOCs) around the site.
He found the level of sulphur dioxide was 4-5 parts-per-million (ppm), well over the designated standard of 0.2 ppm.
The level of carbon monoxide was measured at 175 ppm at the dump but just 10 ppm 200 metres away. The latter figure was below the designated standard of 27 ppm. VOCs measured at 0.9 ppm to 1.0 ppm, which also was under standard level.
"This is the worst incidence of garbage disposal site that had been fired," he said.
Moo 4 Praeksa community leader Paithoon Maisanklang, 51, said he had tried to move local residents to a multi-purpose building owned by the Tambon Praeksa Administrative Organisation, serving as an evacuation centre. He said many were choking from the smoke and had to move out for safety.
He and other leaders were monitoring nearby communities to see if the situation deteriorated last night. "If it gets worse, we will have to evacuate them too," he said.