Alarm spreads over out of control forest fires in Laos

A forest fire is reported at Phou Pha Nang mountain in Sangthong district, Vientiane. - VT

VIENTIANE (Vientiane Times/Asia News Network): Wildfires are burning out of control across hundreds of hectares of land in various parts of the country, with authorities struggling to extinguish the fires as the hot weather continues.

Authorities are concerned that the fires, caused by farmers burning scrubland in preparation for crop planting, could worsen because of a lack of fire-fighting equipment.

Over 400 soldiers, emergency rescue volunteers and local people have teamed up ti bring a wildfire under control at Phou Khao Khuay mountain in Pakngum district, Vientiane, where at least 300 hectares of land are believed to be affected.

The authorities have called for more essential equipment to help extinguish the fire, the Deputy Governor of Pakngum district, Kongmy Sisamout, said.

The fire has spread to more than 300 hectares of land in the villages of Vernkabao, Xienglaena, Xienglaetha and Non.

District authorities have gathered more than 400 soldiers and other individuals to help contain the fire and prevent it spreading further. Efforts are concentrated on preventing the fire reaching nearby tourist attractions such as Tad Tham Pha, Tad Vangluang Taleo and Nam Pien Yorlapa.

Kongmy called on local residents to band together to stop the fire and help by providing drinking water and equipment to put out the flames.

Pakngum district suffered another forest fire in 2018, when more than 200 hectares of land was damaged.

This year wildfires broke out in January and February and were extinguished four times, but another fire began this month.

Elsewhere, a fire has been burning in Sangthong district for seven days and efforts to extinguish it have so far been unsuccessful. Local authorities called out a fire crew to help put out the fire, which is spreading in the area of Phou Phanang mountain.

Last week, district leaders called for assistance from government officials, soldiers, the police, village authorities and adults to put out the fire in the Phou Phanang National Forest, which has spread through three villages.

In Luang Prabang province, soldiers in Viengkham district were also called on to bring a forest fire under control.

On March 22, Lieutenant Colonel Somyat Buaphonxay, Head of the district’s Military Command, led soldiers to extinguish a fire in the Phoukou Protected Forest Area, a strategic military area and a forest reserve in Viengkham district.

Fires are common in the dry and hot season, with temperatures in Vientiane currently hitting 39C.

Last week two people died when they were trapped in burning scrubland after setting fires to clear land for rice planting.

Agricultural burning has caused unprecedented air pollution in Vientiane and other parts of the country, with amounts of airborne particulate matter reaching hazardous levels.

Authorities have advised the people to avoid outdoor activities and to wear a face mask when spending time outside.

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