While COVID-19 has made headlines since the beginning of 2020, another tragic event hit Thailand at the start of the year, in the northern province of Chiang Mai. Leaving the community even more devastated with disaster, the bushfires burned through 2,500 rai, destroying the vegetation, ecosystem, and severely impacted the wildlife and health of the community. Even as the fire was extinguished, the smoke and haze remained in the atmosphere and has created a long-term pollution problem.
“Saving the forest is an obligation we, as humans, need to pick up. It is time to finally take things seriously”, says Professor Dr. Kallaya Suntornvongsagul, Researcher from the Environmental Research Institute of Chulalongkorn University. She shares on the silent dangers of wildfires, stressing that the fires are real and may indirectly lead to the crossbreeding of emerging diseases. When there is a fire, wild animals are chased out of their homes and come into closer proximity with humans and farm animals close-by. This increases the possibility of cross-contamination, from wild animals to the farm animals, and then to humans.
The prevention of wildfire is beyond the works of one individual. It requires community-based participation, whereby the people living in the community near the forest are urged to collaborate and create greenbelts, a protected space around the forest.
Through research and development, the research team at the Department of Environment Engineering, Faculty of Engineering used Nan province as a case study to find new innovations that may help manage forest fires. Some actions include putting in place a fire safety policy, setting up PM 2.5 air quality sensors, and developing the sensor network and geographic information system that receives satellite data to update and monitor fires and burning points, which can be tracked via cusense.net.
“Extinguishing the fire using robots or drones will only work with fires burning on the surface or ground. Artificial intelligence (AI) can be used with large scale wildfires, but requires more research and development due to several mitigating factors, such as the complexity of Thailand’s geography, lack of information, change of weather, and human behavior”, says Tawat Ngamsritragul, a graduate student at the Department of Environment Engineering, Defense and Engineering Technology Program, Faculty of Engineering.
Mr. Tawat also shares that the research team has created wildfire models to track the speed of the fire based on the weather or seasons, which is helpful in predicting the lead time for firefighters to reach and put out the fires in time. In the end, the ideal solution for forest fires is to stop the fires from happening in the first place. He concluded that the entire community and society need to be aware of the adverse effects of forest fires and cooperation from all parties is crucial.