Fire Destroys Burmese Refugee Homes, Thai Military Post

By Saw Yan Naing 29 March 2016

CHIANG MAI, Thailand — A large fire broke out in a Burmese refugee camp in northern Thailand on Monday, destroying about two dozen homes and community buildings as well as parts of a nearby Thai military base.

The fire occurred in Mae La Oon refugee camp in northwestern Thailand’s Mae Hong Son Province at around 4 p.m. The bamboo and wood structures lost in the blaze were located in Section 8, near the camp’s entrance.

The flames also spread to the temporary homes built for Thai soldiers who are stationed outside the camp for security.

Saw Tu Tu, the head of Karen Refugee Committee’s branch office in Mae Sariang Town, Mae Hong Son Province, told The Irrawaddy that the cause of the fire was accidental—the result of a cooking mishap in a refugee household.

“[A local woman] was resting outside the house and burning firewood fell to the floor,” he said.

Saw Tu Tu said more than 20 residences were lost in the fire, including a food and supplies office and a local outpost of the International Organization for Migration (IOM); around ten structures were lost at the Thai military post.

Mae La Oon is one of nine refugee camps on the Thai-Burma border and it hosts an estimated 12,000 refugees who have fled civil war in Burma. It has 13 sections in total—12 of which were not affected by this incident.

After the fire was contained, local Thai authorities—including soldiers—visited the site and reportedly distributed food and water to the affected residents. They urged camp residents to be aware of the causes and risks of fires during the dry summer season due to heat and wildfire from the surrounding forest.

Correction: A previous version of this story erroneously stated that 30-40 homes had been razed by the fire, according to Saw Tu Tu. The head of Karen Refugee Committee’s branch office in Mae Sariang town actually put the number at 23-24.