Refugee camp – fire still worries residents

Days after fire destroyed refugee housing, affecting 3,000 people in Umphiem Mai refugee camp, the camp’s cemetery caught fire, destroying many tombs. For refugees in the camp, this was a grim reminder that fire is still a huge threat. Saw Blacktown reports for Karen News.

Naw Htoo, a resident of Umphiem Mai refugee camp said that she and her family were scared but fortunately, their house was not in the section where the fire started.

“The fire didn’t reach to our house, but we were frightened and moved all our belongings from the house. My eight year-old youngest son is still scared and shocked by the fire.”

Naw Htoo said her son had trouble sleeping at night as he is still scared by the fire.

“The other night, there was fire at the camp’s cemetery. It was quite far from us, but it can be seen from our house. My youngest son wouldn’t go to bed. Even though he was sleepy, he sat and watched the fire for many hours. We tried to convince him that the fire was too far away and could not reach our house, before he would go to bed.”

Naw Htoo said her house is located close to the edge of the forest and the thought of a bushfire is also scares her.

“There is only a school building between my house and the edge of the forest. We have to be careful, not only fire from our kitchen, but also fires in the forest.”

In recent weeks the Thailand’s north has been ravaged by forest fires. The governor of Tak province, Suriya Prasatbandit, was reported in The Bangkok Post asking for the Burma authorities in Myawaddy, a border town opposite Tak, to help curb the forest fires.

Saw Ar Mu, a security officer from Mae La refugee camp told Karen News the camp is on high alert about fires.

“We always warn camp residents to be careful with fire, especially in the dry season. Each of the camp zones and section leaders, together with other camp security officials are responsible to constantly urge people by announcement from loudspeakers to be careful with fire.”

Saw Ar Mu said, as a precaution, every house has to prepare firefighting tools.

“We instructed every household to have water and sandbags ready and we make sure they follow the instructions. We also warn them to watch their fires closely while they are cooking and to kill the fire after they finish cooking. We’ve been raising fire awareness for long time.”

Forest fires around the various camps are everywhere, but the security officer said they try to keep the camp safe.

“There are forest fires around the camp, but we make sure it doesn’t get into the camp by assigning camp security officers to watch closely and stop the fire in time.”

The last fire in Mae La refugee camp was in 2010 when an office of Karen Youth Organization caught fire and all office materials including computers were destroyed.

The Thai Burma Border Consortium’s website reports that there were no major causalities in the Umpiem fire. The TBBC thanked the Thai Red Cross and the Deputy Governor of Tak province for a donation of “1,000 bags that included blankets, soap, first aid and other hygiene items.”

The TBBC website reported that the humanitarian organization is “working closely with the camp committee, camp warehouse managers and warehouse staff to distribute food rations to the affected families living in seven temporary sites and in relatives’ homes.

The TBBC and the camp committee have set up community kitchens in each of the seven temporary sites. TBBC food rations are being distributed together with extra food donated by other groups.”
The TBBC estimate that as many as 1,000 emergency tents will be needed for as long as two months to house the camp residents displaced by the fire.

To make a donation to help TBBC re-house the Umpiem camp refugees displaced by the fire, go to –

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