Some 1,000 officials and volunteers have joined up to battle a major forest fire, which turned the mountainous area overlapping Chiang Mai's Muang and Mae Chan districts into an inferno that brings to mind scenes in apocalypse movies.
The fire started on Sunday night in the Doi Jorakhe area of Tambon Tha Sud in Muang before spreading to Tambon Pa Teung in Mae Chan, a densely populated area and home to Mae Chan Hospital and temples.
As of Monday morning, the fire had damaged 1,000 rai of forestland and nearby farms.
Mae Chan disrict chief Wandee Ratchomphu led the efforts by 800 state officials and volunteers to put out the fire and prevent it from reaching communities or more forestland in Mae Fah Luang district.
A special coordination centre was set up at Wat Pateung to dispatch firefighters to the affected areas by first light, attempts to put out the flames in the heavily wooded mountainous area during the night considered dangerous.
Third Army Region deputy commander Major Buncha Duriyapan was also on the scene to help supervise soldiers joining the fire-fighting efforts.
The Army brought in a helicopter to provide support to the Protected Area Regional Office 15's chopper being used to carry water from the three-metre-deep Tham Sua reservior to douse the 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. Noting that the forest fires were now fanning out in all directions, he pointed out that they would worsen the province's already poor air pollution and affect public health.
The Geo-Informatics and Space Technology Development Agency's fire monitoring system (fire.gistda.or.th) as of 2.33am on Monday 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).