Thailand is centrally located in the Indochina Peninsular between 5° 40’ and 20° 30’ North latitudes and 90° 70’ and 105° 45’ East longitudes covering an area of 513,115 sq km (Figure 2) which is characterized by a monsoon climate. It has two dominated vegetation types, Evergreen and Deciduous.
The Evergreen Forest contains a great proportion of non-leaf shedding species and covers about 40 percent of the total forested area. It can be further classified into Tropical Rain Forest, Dry Evergreen Forest, Hill Evergreen Forest, Coniferous Forest, Mangrove Forest, Swamp Peat Forest, and Beach Forest.
The remaining 60 percent belongs to the Deciduous Forest, which is comprised of species with leafless periods. Trees growing in this latter type of forest tend to develop growth or annual rings that cannot be found in the Evergreen Forest species. The Deciduous Forest, prone to surface (or ground) fires during dry seasons, can be categorized into Mixed Deciduous Forest, Dry Dipterocarp Forest, and Savanna. Though fires in the Mixed Deciduous Forest have great potential to be severe and damaging, if bamboo constitutes a majority of this forest, they, in actual fact, play a vital role in its regeneration.
There are three types of forest fires in Thailand. First, a surface fire (Figure 3), is a fire that burns organic materials in soil layers and often the surface litters, loose derbies such as leaves and fallen branches, low-growing vegetation, and other fire fuels located on the forest floor. It always occurs in the Dry Dipterocarp Forest, Mixed Deciduous Forest, Forest Plantation, Dry Evergreen Forest, and Hill Evergreen Forest or even in some parts of the Tropical Rain Forest.
Second, a crown fire (Figure 4) is a fire that burns primarily in the leaves and needles of trees, spreading from tree to tree above the ground. It occurs in the Coniferous Forest and the Pine Plantations in the northern region of the country and later in a degraded peat forest in southern Thailand as well.
Finally, a ground and semi-underground fire (Figure 5) is a fire that burns primarily under the forest floor, spreading underground from tree to tree and usually lasting a long time. It occurs only in the Swamp Peat Forest (Figure 6) in the southern region of Thailand (Plod-pail et al. 1987 and Akaakara 2001). Since the latter two types of forest fires rarely occur in Thailand, the surface fire is the focus of this study. Forest fires in Thailand occur annually during the dry season, in northern Thailand from December until April and in southern Thailand from July until August. The relationships between the forest fires and the forest types are summarized in Table 1.
Table 1 Summary of types of forest covers and fires in Thailand
Five common types of forest in Thailand that have been affected by forest fire are Swam Peat Forest (Figure 5), Dry Evergreen Forest (Figure 7), Mixed Deciduous Forest (Figure 8), Dry Dipterocarp Forest (Figure 9), and Savanna Forest (Figure 10).
Common forest fires in Thailand is a surface fire in the Dry Dipterocarp and Mixed Deciduous Forests. Those forest fires occur from mid-December to late April with the peak fire season in March.
Those forest fires suppression efforts were verified and confirmed by the official records collected since 1980 by Thailand’s Forest Fires Control Division of the National Park, Wildlife, and Plant Conservation Department, Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment (a former division in the Thai Royal Forest Department, Ministry of Agriculture). Those statistics clearly showed that most of those fires almost 100% were ignited by human beings. Therefore, in this context, it is safe to conclude that all forest fires in Thailand are man-made. And their major causes are directly related to activities of the inhabitants in the rural areas who live near the forests. These activities include, for example, gathering of forest non-timber products, agricultural debris burning, incendiary fire starting, hunting, and carelessness (Akaakara 1999 and 2003).
Plodpail A, Akaakara S, Manirat B, Parnnakapitak W, Songporn N (1987) The Management of Forest Fire Control in Thailand, Natural Disaster Office, Royal Forest Department, Thailand.
Akaakara S (2001) Forest Fire Control in Thailand, Forest Fire Control Office, Royal Forest Department, Thailand, 2-5.
Akaakara S (1999) Forest Fire Control for Thailand, Forest Fire Control Office, Royal Forest Department, Thailand, 1-18, 80-109.
Akaakara S (2003) Forest Fire Control Office Web Page, http://www.dnp.go.th/ forestfire/, the National Park, Wildlife and Plant Conservation Department, Thailand.
Veerachai Tanpipat, Forest Fire Management Technical Advisor to DG of Royal Forest Department