CityNews – Two Chiang Mai residents, Marisa Marchitelli and Shana Kongmun, started a Facebook page today called Fire Reports Chiang Mai, for residents to post photos and reports of fires in the area.
Fire photographed by Fire Reports user Dave Ring on the evening of Feburary 28, 2015 next to Alpine Golf Course in San Kampaeng.
The page garnered 80 likes in its first 30 minutes of existence, and at time of press has 138 members and counting.
Every year, Chiang Mai residents suffer from high levels of air pollution due to the common practice of burning in the dry season. Already, dust level measurements are reported to be clocking as high as 181 micrograms of dust per cubic metre.
“I had the idea to start [the page] because I’m tired of people complaining about the burning and not doing anything about it,” Marchitelli tells CityNews. “I think the not doing anything part is the result of not knowing how to deal with local authorities.”
Marchitelli says it all began when she tried to report a fire near her house by calling 1784, the so-called 24-hour hotline for reporting illegal burning that was publicised by deputy governor Adisorn Kamnerdsiri in early 2013. It rang and rang, to no avail. Then, she found another hotline, 1362, which supposedly connects callers to the Forest Fire Control Division of Chiang Mai. Again, no answer. (CityNews tried both hotlines with the same results.)
“Then I called the Department of National Parks, who transferred me to a woman who said you can report here but we don’t have the budget for the reward,” says Marchitelli.
Indeed, the local government has been talking a lot lately about a 5,000 baht reward for reporting burners. But Marchitelli notes that there is no information on how to get it.
“It seems like they’ve made this ‘reward’ scheme quite bureaucratic,” says Marchitelli. “By the time you’ve done what they require to get the incentive, the fire is probably out.”
The woman on the phone eventually told Marchitelli that she would have to call the Office of Environmental Protection to report the fire and claim her reward, but first she would have submit a police report with as much documentation as possible.
“I said, okay, well what’s your job? She didn’t say anything.”
To make matters worse, Marchitelli tells CityNews that the head of her village, when discussing the burning issue, advised local residents: “Don’t burn during the daytime, only at night.”
“I think the action of the Thai government on this issue has been pathetic,” Marchitelli says. “In a city that prides itself on its landscape and heritage, how can the government continue to stand idly by as this situation becomes exacerbated year after year? Their incentives are bureaucratic and not practical.”
On their Fire Reports page, Marchitelli and Kongmun ask users to post photos and detailed reports of local fires with the hashtag ?#?firereportschiangmai.
They also encourage all users to report fires directly to the authorities, but not to the seemingly useless hotlines. Instead, they have posted the following contacts:
1. Chiang Mai Department of National Parks: 053-276-100
“They say they will put out the fire but cannot offer a reward for reporting.”
2. The Office of Environmental Protection: 053-112-725
“They can put out a fire and are also offering rewards. In order to receive the reward you first have to file a police report and if the claim is valid you can expect to receive 5,000 baht.”
They note that only Thai speakers can make reports, but that anyone who can’t speak Thai can send a message directly to the Fire Reports page, and one of the admin will do it for them.
“We have both seen how effective this kind of public action can be in galvanizing public opinion,” says co-creator Kongmun. “We would love to see everyone take part, members of both the expat and Thai community.”
Adds Marchitelli, “I think if we bombard these offices with enough calls, they might do something.”
Join the page at www.facebook.com/firereportschiangmai.