It was during my time in Los Angeles, as a student at USC, that I learned how to recognize the signs of fires. As an upperclassman there, there were terrible fires one winter, because of drought and ferocious Santa Ana winds, and the result was a hazy sky with a blood red sun. Some years later, when I was back in Florida, I noticed the same phenomenon, when immense wildfires during a drought as far away as southern Georgia left the smell of hickory barbeque in the air from the burning swamplands hundreds of miles away.
So, therefore, when I awoke yesterday morning and this morning to hazy days, where the sun was discolored beneath the haze. I suspected, therefore, that fire was the cause of the haze as well as my own difficulty sleeping and breathing deeply. So, after church this afternoon, I decided to investigate, and found out that there had been quiet a bit of fires (along with an ‘extreme’ risk of forest fires in general all over Thailand) in the area of Chiang Mai and neighboring provinces like Tak and Chiang Rai .
If it’s one thing, it’s another. This past summer and fall, as readers of my blog are well aware, flooding was a major issue. Now the dryness of the dry season has made forest fires a particular danger. We can never seem to have the right amount of water–either it is too much or too little, never just right. It would be nice if one could have enough water to keep the forests from becoming tinderboxes but not too much water so that hillsides slide and riverbanks flood. I am not a child of luck, however, and it appears that our times do not offer such good fortune for many areas.
What makes the risk of forest fires worse are the habits of the Thai people regarding the careless use of fire. Some 90% of fires are started by human activity, such as rubbish fires and burning tires and the like (both of which are pretty common) here, as I can see within my own village. Deliberate arson is much rarer, but carelessness is dangerous enough, and at least a few hundred acres have burned so far (the haze would suggest far more than that, but news reports are skimpy). That’s not enough to write home about, but even if our winds are not fierce right now, the lack of rain expected for the next couple of months, at least, creates a high level of risk. We shall see how it goes, though.