Thai authorities used helicopters on Thursday to try to contain a fire that engulfed two mountains in largely undeveloped forested area overnight in a province northeast of the capital Bangkok.
The fire broke out in Nakhon Nayok province, 70 miles northeast of Bangkok, on Wednesday night, but firefighters could not fight it directly because the mountains are too steep to climb safely, especially in the dark of night, the provincial governor said Bancha Chaowarin told reporters.
“Apart from the direction of the wind, I also have to worry about the lives and safety of those conducting the operation. After reviewing the situation, since it’s a mountain top, we had to go into standby and confer on what we can do,” Bancha said late Wednesday night.
At least 10 fire engines were dispatched to tackle the blaze and on Thursday afternoon they were assisted by at least two helicopters surveying the situation and discharging water.
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Initial efforts to contain the fire focused on creating firebreaks.
Bancha was quoted by Thai Rath newspaper as saying that while it was originally estimated the fire could be brought under control within five days, he would aim to do it in just three days.
More wildfires have erupted in provinces further north in recent days as seasonal temperatures rise, an ongoing problem that contributes to dangerously high levels of air pollution.
About 275 acres of forest in Nakhon Nayok had burned down as of Thursday noon as the fire continued to smolder, Bancha said.
The fire started on a high part of Khao Chaplu Mountain and then spread to adjacent Khao Laem Mountain. Local media said it burned easily because much of the growth was bamboo and high winds fanned the flames.
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The mountains are located on a huge piece of land not far from one of the country’s best-known wildlife sanctuaries, Khao Yai National Park. The Chulachomklao Royal Military Academy, Thailand’s version of West Point, is near where the fire broke out, and a village of about 500 people is about half a mile from the blaze, Thai Rath reported. Residents were warned to inform officers of any wild animals they saw fleeing the burning forest.
Prime Minister Prayut Chan-ocha is monitoring the situation closely and has ordered officials and the army to mobilize to stop the fire from spreading, government spokesman Anucha Burapachaisri said.
He added that Prayut ordered officers to watch out for anyone deliberately starting fires to clear land for farming and other purposes, a practice blamed for previous fires. The cause of the Nakhon Nayok fire was not yet clear, although some local media reports said it was started by lightning.
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Bancha was quoted by Thai Rath as saying a storm on Tuesday sparked a nearby fire which was carried to the Khao Laem area by strong winds.
Individual wildfires have raged further north, Anucha noted, including in Chiang Mai province, where water was released from the air on Wednesday to douse the blazes.
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