From Dave Arthurs
As of today, it has taken me almost three years to build the house that we live in; a modest sized mud-brick house in an un-productive Lamyai orchard. The best thing about our house, and the reason that we bought this land in the first place, is that it is located right up at the southernmost tip of Doi Suthep/Pui National Park.
I like that there is continuous forest cover between here and the summit of the mountain and the fact that, if I were a squirrel, I could visit the temple without having to set my feet on the ground. The truth is though, in making that squirelly journey, a lot of the forest I would pass through is not in the healthiest of conditions; there are large stretches dominated by a few species, with almost no leaf litter or topsoil. These sections are the result of the annual burning with which we are all familiar.
Since the first year here I have lived through each burning season in a state of nervous tension. Waiting for the smell of smoke or the dramatic volcano-like spectacle of a mountain on fire at night. I have helped extinguish many small fires, some by calling the forest fire team and some with a rake on my own. Watching the burning two years ago made me realise that I could do little to protect a lot of the forest, but with a well placed firebreak, I could protect the area directly behind my house.
Our land sits on the flank of a fairly wide ridge, and I figured that by sweeping a 200 metre long break between our valley and the valley on the other side of the ridge, I could protect an area of forest about 15-20 rai*. I’d always thought the forest behind our house was in relatively good condition; it has a wide variety of species (to my untrained eye) and is distinctly more lush than the surrounding forest during the rainy season. Some tree-expert friends confirmed that the forest is a healthy example of natural growth, containing even teak and mai daeng (the two species** most prized for timber). All this made it worth protecting all the more.
The relative health of this part of the forest may account for the diversity of fauna we see here too. I’m a keen wildlife spotter but when we moved here I had no idea of the variety of things I would see. It seems that, particularly during the dry season, this part of the forest becomes something of a haven. I have seen bird species here that I’d previously only seen in some of the better national parks. Some of these birds are transient and are seen on their way elsewhere, but many are seasonal or even permanent.
This past smoke season I swept my firebreak about eight times in total, but in the end it was a waste of time. The smoke and fires still came, although for whatever reason, they did not come anywhere near our little valley. There were fires on the other side of the hill which the forest fire service extinguished, but quite a large section of forest remained, for the second year running, untouched.
I speculate about the reasons for this.
My calling the forest fire brigade a few times obviously helped. Perhaps the close proximity of our valley to town and the fact that much of the forest is visible from the highway has some effect? Maybe it was the Kamnan in our village who spoke often about the burning and its negative effects.
I think, in the end, it’s probably just lucky that it didn’t happen.
Whatever the reason, next year I will sweep my firebreak again and hopefully keep the little area near me as fire-free as possible.
For those who are interested; the forest fire number is 1362 – it’s a national number and I think you need to be able to speak a bit of Thai to communicate. They will ask you where you are and give you the phone number of the relevant forest fire team. The number I phoned for Chiang Mai was 053-232019 – but it may not always be reliable.
* One rai is an area 40 m x 40 m =1600 square metres. An Olympic swimming pool is 50 m long
** Teak is called Mai Sak ไม้สัก in Thai, Tectona grandis in Latin; Mai Daeng ไม้แดง in Thai literally translates as Red Wood in Latin Xylia xylocarpa .