From: Sukree Sukplang, Reuters
Published March 14, 2007 12:00 AM

Smoke Thickens in Choking Thai North

CHIANG MAI -- The smoke haze choking northern Thailand thickened on Wednesday as officials urged people to water the land and streets in hopes of getting enough humidity into the air to provoke rain.


Chiang Mai officials sent fire trucks to hose down streets and spray into the air in hopes of bringing rain to wash away smoke produced by dry season stubble burning, forest fires and wood-fired cooking.


Thailand's second city and tourist capital of the scenic north urged its residents to do the same, hoping the collective effort would increase humidity as the seasonal scourge reached its most dense levels in 15 years.


After three days of failure to provoke a deluge from the sky, rainmaking teams added water to their chemical mix of fertiliser and salt sprayed from planes to make rain in hopes that would be more effective, officials said.


But the smoke from burning fields and forests in Thailand, Laos and Myanmar still poured into valleys in the hilly region as a cold front prevented it from escaping into the atmosphere.


Chiang Mai was even contemplating bringing forward the annual Songkran festival, in which merry makers spray each other with water to celebrate the Thai New Year, not due until April 13.


"Having an early Songkran will help boost humidity in the sky," Chiang Mai City Mayor Boonlert Buranupakorn told Reuters.


"We have to do everything we can to get rid of the haze, from stopping the sources of smoke, getting rid of it and speeding up the rain," he said.


RAIN FORECAST


Weather forecasters say there might be rain this weekend, but the governor of nearby Lampang province wasn't prepared to wait.


He suggested reviving a traditional drought ritual in which female cats are carried from house to house and doused with water at each.


"We have to do everything, even superstitious means, to bring the rain," Amornthat Niratiyakul told a crisis meeting in Chiang Mai.


The smoke, which started spreading nearly two weeks ago, now affected 5 million people, the Health Ministry said.


The region has not seen rain since November in what has been an unusually long and dry cool season in Thailand and the air quality index in Chiang Mai rose to 247, a level at which the smoke will affect health heavily.


That compared with 100 at the start of March, the Department of Pollution Control said in a statement.


Chiang Mai officials, in addition to tackling forest fires and trying to stop farmers burning stubble, are urging people to stop cooking with wood or charcoal or burning waste.


"We have asked the BBQ-styled restaurants to cut back on their smoke though they are not a major source of haze," Mayor Boonlert said.


The city had already fined 26 people 500 baht ($14) apiece for ignoring the request not to burn domestic rubbish or leaves and was ready to jail repeat violators for one month, Boonlert said.


In Bangkok, Environment Minister Kasem Sanitwong Na Ayutthaya said the government was pooling resources to fight the fires.


"If we cannot put out the fires, we may declare a state of emergency, but we have not reached that stage yet," he told reporters.


Source: Reuters


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