Volunteer Forest Firefighters head back to the flames

By | Tue 8 Mar 2022

Smokey season is back. Yesterday’s Air Quality Index in Chiang Mai, pre rain!, hit 168 (https://aqicn.org). Higher Air Quality Index levels like todays suggest that some members of the general public may experience health effects and that members of sensitive groups may experience more serious health effects. The soaring AQI levels confirm that the fires in the Chiang Mai mountains have begun to rage once again. While most Chiang Mai residents are preparing air purifiers and filtered masks to protect themselves from the hazardous air, other residents are hitting the forest and volunteering to fight the flames.

“I was born and grew up here in Chiang Mai,” said 26 year old Phu Phurichaya. Phu is a local volunteer firefighter who has teamed up with the disaster relief non-profit, The Mirror Foundation. “If you see the air pollution on the AirVisual app you will see that Chiang Mai is always top 10 in the world,” said Phu, “That is why Mirror is here helping out fight fires in Chiang Mai.” Mirror’s aim is to help hill tribe people with issues such as citizenship and drug abuse but in recent years has begun disaster relief in the form of fighting forest fires during smokey season. Though based in Chaing Rai, the blossoming Mirror Foundation aids Chiang Mai for a few weeks during the smokey season to locate and control forest fires.

Phu took notice of Mirror’s firefighting efforts this year and wanted to assist, “Chiang Mai is my home town and I heard about Mirror helping my community. I wanted to help, too. I want to help them with the firefighting and give them a hand. Helping Mirror also means I get to save my city, as well,” he said.

Smaller local government forest fire control teams fight the fires as best they can but due to limited resources, they need help. These local teams work very hard at fire control but Mirror has been a big ally. Mirror helps local teams with drone support and manpower in the form of leaf blowing fire breaks and carrying water to the front lines of the fires. Each day begins by locating Chiang Mai region hot spots, packing Red Trucks with volunteers and then working toward controlling the massive fires. Each day brings its own challenges.

“We are about 35 people. 20 officials and 15 volunteers,” Phu said. The foundation’s volunteer numbers have been kept lower than normal in midst of the COVID pandemic. The team works daily from about 7AM to dark and are fueled by food and water donations.

Phu’s watercarrying job is a tough one but his passion toward his hometown remains, “You just have a heart to save nature,” he said, “My favorite part of volunteer work is carrying water to stop fires. I give the water to other guys atop the fire. It may seem small but all jobs are of equal importance,” Phu concluded, “We all must be united as one no matter what position you are in.”

While the causes of the yearly fires vary, the Mirror team focuses on control rather than prevention. Phu and his firefighting team will be in the Chiang Mai region until March 17th assisting local government firefighters battle the burning.

While The Mirror Foundation is requesting that only experienced volunteers re-apply this year, cash donations are welcome at http://www.mirror.or.th/donation/donateeng.php

Will Langston: