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3.2.9 Fire Situation in Thailand

Siri Akaakara
Forest Fire Control Office,
Royal Forest Department,
Bangkok, Thailand

Introduction: Fire environment, fire regimes, and the ecological role of fire

In Thailand, 25 percent of the country is covered by forests, or 12.97 million hectares. The Deciduous forests comprise 53 percent of the total forested area, while evergreen forests make up 47 percent. Human-caused fires have long been a component of various forest ecosystems. They occur annually during the dry season from December to May with the peak period in February and March. In a normal year, the most common surface fires mainly take place in Dry Dipterocarp forests and in Mixed Deciduous forests. During extended drought conditions related to the El Niño-Southern Oscillation (ENSO) event, fires spread, to a certain extent, into Dry Evergreen, Hill evergreen or even into some parts of the Tropical Rain forest. In certain extremely dry sites, forests may burn twice per fire season. Although other types of fire are not typical to the forests of Thailand, in the recent El Niño episode of 1997-1998, a notable number of crown fires took place in Pine (Pinus spp.) plantations. Peat-swamp forests desiccated appreciably and a number of ground fires occurred as well.

Fire has long been playing a significant role in most of forest ecosystems, and the impacts caused by fire are very significant. However, the degree of damage caused by fire depends on the type of fire as well as the type of forest burnt. The deciduous forests are prone to fire and have long been subjected to annual surface fires. Therefore these forests are well-adapted to fire and are fire-resistant. Surface fires are usually not lethal to mature trees. However, too frequent fires impede and retard natural regeneration, and alters forest structure. Repeatedly burned forests will gradually deteriorate, changing into more arid sites and eventually into grassland dominated by Imperata cylindrica.

In evergreen forests fires cause abrupt and very severe damages. Fires kill more that 50 percent of mature trees, and destroy all sapling and undergrowth. In addition, fires drastically increase soil erosion as well as surface runoff. Fires also destroy food and habitat of wildlife, jeopardising the functioning of the whole forest ecosystem.

Summary of major wildfire impacts during the 1990s

The most severe fires took place in 1998 when the country was affected by the last El Niñoepisode. During that time, a number of large fires broke out in various parts of the country. These major fires included:

Doi Intanon Fire

This fire took place at Doi Intanon National Park in Chiangmai Province, Northern Thailand in mid March. The fire lasted for five days and consumed 480 ha. of Dry Forest as well as Hill Evergreen Forest in the sensitive watershed area. The fire killed about 20 percent of mature trees. Damages caused to the watershed area were far beyond the assessment capabilities.

Phu Kadong Fire

This fire took place at Phu Kadong National Park in Leoi Province, Northeastern Thailand in early March. One thousand nine hundred and twenty ha. of Pine Forest and Hill Evergreen Forest were severely burnt. Impacts caused by this fire were tremendous because the burnt site is not only a watershed area but also one of most famous tourist spots in the country.

Kao Yai Fire

This fire took place at Kao Yai National Park in Nakornrachasima Province, Northeastern Thailand in late March. This fire lasted for seven days and burnt 1 440 ha. of Dry Evergreen Forest. In addition to killing 30 percent of mature trees, the fire caused high mortality of wild animals, mainly wild chickens and their eggs, snakes and other small reptiles.

Pru Todang Fire

This fire took place at Pru Todang Swamp forest, which is the country's only true Peat-Swamp Forest. This peat fire lasted for nearly two months from late April to late June. Fire destroyed 1 280 ha. of invaluable Peat-Swamp Forest. About 80-90 percent of mature trees were killed, along with all undergrowth. The affected area was nearly denuded after this fire. Smoke emitted from this fire covered the sky over Naratiwat Province in southern Thailand for almost two months. Hundreds of patients, mainly children and elderly, were treated in hospitals for their respiratory problems. A number of firefighters, including the correspondent who commanded the fire suppression operations, were also treated due to the same sickness.

Forest fire database

Table 3-7 Wildfire statistics of fire numbers, area burned and fire causes for the period 1985-2000.


Total No. of Fires on Forest Lands


Area of Forest Burned



Human Causes


Natural Causes


Unknown Causes




3 535 110







3 797 289







2 030 160







1 459 617







763 648







643 799







490 303







660 208







1 145 452







407 964







93 324





Source: Forest Fire Control Office, Royal Forest Department of Thailand

Operational fire management system and organization

There is a single organization responsible for all forest fire control activities in Thailand, called the Forest Fire Control Office which is under the Royal Forest Department (Figure 3-6). This office is composed of:

• Divisions

• Forest Fire Control Centres (FFCC)

• 92 Forest Fire Control Stations (FFCS)

• Forest Fire Control Development Camps (FFDC)


Royal Forest Department


Forest Fire Control Office


Forest Fire Control

Planning Division


Forest Fire Control

Logistics Division


Forest Fire Control

Development Division


North FFDC


Northeast FFDC


Central FFDC


Upper North



Lower North






















Figure 3-6 Organizational structure of the Forest Fire Control Office, Royal Forest Department, Thailand

Responsibilities at different levels of the forest fire control organization

Forest Fire Control Planning Division

- Planning and budgeting

- Supervise, coordinate and evaluate fire control centres and stations nationwide

- General affairs

Forest Fire Control Development Division

- Develop fire prevention materials, prevention campaign strategies, fire suppression equipment as well as techniques and tactics in fighting fire

- Supervise, coordinate, and evaluate fire control centres and stations nationwide

- Train fire control personnel

- Train, maintain and command the Fire Fighting Special Task Force (Fire Tiger Unit).

- Research and study

- Coordinate with concerned Organizations locally and internationally

Forest Fire Control Logistics Division

- Procure and mobilize all human and technical resources to support fire suppression operations

- Logistics, first aid and rescue during large fire suppression operations

Forest Fire Control Centres (FFCF)

- Supervise fire control stations under its responsibility

- Support the operation of its fire control station

- Coordinate with all agencies concerned

Forest Fire Control Stations (FFCS)

The FFCS is the executing unit of Forest Fire Control Office. Each station has subordinate units called Forest Fire Suppression Mobile Teams. The number of Forest Fire Suppression Mobile Teams of each Fire Station varies depending on amount of responsible area of each Station. It carries out two main tasks which include:

Forest fire prevention campaign. This campaign is carried out throughout the year, and comprises these following activities :

• Mobile campaign unit (direct contact)

• Campaign via mass media

• Billboard and printed materials

• Education programme

• Exhibition

Forest fire suppression. This task is carried out by the Forest Fire Suppression Mobile Teams. There are 272 teams nation-wide. Each team is composed of 15 fire crews and generally responsible for suppression operations within 10 000 hectares of forest. Due to budget limitations, only 4.68 million hectares, or equivalent to 35.7 percent of total forestland, are placed under the fire suppression programme. The suppression activities include :

• Training of fire crews as well as fire volunteer brigades

• Fuel management (fire breaks, control burning etc.)

• Fire detection and reporting

• Pre-suppression

• Fire suppression

• Evaluation

Forest Fire Control Development Camp

It is the executing unit of Forest Fire Control Development Division. It carries out all kinds of development tasks, including:

• Develop and produce fire prevention campaign materials

• Develop and produce fire suppression equipment

• Train fire crew as well as fire prevention campaign personnel

• Train and operate the Fire Fighting Special Task Force (Fire Tiger Unit)

• Conduct research and study

Responsibilities at the different levels of government

Central level (national)

The National Forest Fire Management Committee is appointed by the prime minister and is responsible for fire management policy at the national level.

State (provinces)

The Provincial Forest Fire Management Committee is appointed by the National Forest Fire Management Committee and implements the fire management policy at the provincial level. There are committees in each of the 63 provinces where forests still exist. The local administrations have a mandate to protect the forest resources in their respective areas, including the protection of forests against fire.

Voluntary firefighters / brigades

The fire problem will not be solved without full cooperation with local people. The Royal Forest Department has devoted all its efforts to obtain people’s participation in fire management. Approximately 10 000 fire volunteers are trained annually. Unfortunately, without financial incentive, the concept of fire volunteers does not work well in this country.

Main forest fire research issues

A few fire research programmes have been conducted since 1980. The main research projects are on fire behaviour, fuel characteristics and the attitude of people towards fire. However, since 1999 a national Forest Fire Research Centre was established and a Master Plan for Forest Fire Research was formulated. It includes the research on fire impacts, fire prevention, fire suppression and the use of fire.

Use of prescribed fire to achieve management objectives


Early burning has long been practised in all areas under fire control programmes as a means to prevent forest fires and to reduce the hazard of fire. However, the practice is conducted on a small scale due to the inadequacy of know-how as well as experience in this field.

Other vegetation management (grasslands, bushlands)

Prescribed fire has been used in some very specific areas in order to maintain grassland for wildlife management purposes.

Agricultural maintenance burning

Open burning in farmlands to eliminate residue after harvesting is still the common practice of all local people throughout the country.

"Let burn" (or integration) of natural (lightning) and human-caused wildfires

100 percent of the forest fires are caused by humans. There is no “let burn” policy in place.

Sustainable land-use practices employed in the country to reduce wildfire hazards

Presently there is no dedicated programme underway to employ land-use practices for wildfire hazard reduction.

Public policies concerning fire

Policies in place

• The National Forest Policy

The latest National Forest Policy No.18 (1985) states that a substantial plan for tackling the deforestation problem (e.g., shifting cultivation, forest fire) must be determined. Suppression as well as law enforcement measures must be clearly set.

• The Royal Forest Department Policy

The Royal Forest Department has a forest fire control policy "to minimise damages caused by forest fires by using all means either prevention or suppression strategy."

The needs of fire management

The management of forest fires in Thailand has been intensively carried out for almost two decades. Considerable amounts of knowledge and experiences have been obtained during this long period. To a satisfactory level, Thailand has developed a unique fire management system which is proved to fit the local situation. However, some aspects of management and fire research are still insufficiently developed. In this regard, assistance from the fire science community is badly needed.


Akaakara, S. 2001. The forest fire situation in Thailand. Int. Forest Fire News 26.

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