Thailand has just three seasons, the Cold Season, which we are just coming to the end of, the Hot Season which is just beginning and the Wet Season which happens later in the year. No prizes for guessing what each season is like!
However, I was recently told by the locals of a fourth season in the mountains, the “Season of Smoke”. I couldn’t quite work out what they meant, until last weekend. I had gone to bed early and was woken up at 9pm by the sound of crackling. My window shutters had been closed which I thought was strange, until I poked my head out and saw the huge fire raging just beyond the boundary of Sinuan’s house. Suddenly the “Season of Smoke” began to make more sense, for with such a huge fire, came a lot of smoke!
Of course I wasn’t going to stay cooped up in the house with so much going on outside, so I quickly rushed out with my camera, to find all the locals lined up on the roadside outside the house admiring the fire, and of course drinking whisky. Anyone riding past on their motorbike would stop and chat for a while and as with many things in the village, it became a social hub.
I had rushed out assuming it was an accidental fire, but with so many locals relaxing beside it I began to wonder. I was even more confused when some of the local kids would run to the edge, set light to a long stick and run off to light another patch of untouched undergrowth.
It wasn’t until the next day when I chatted to some of my students that I found out what was going on.
Fires start and spread quickly in the Hot Season. So, before the Hot Season arrives in full force, the locals burn the undergrowth around their houses and villages. The larger plants seem to survive, but the smaller, drier ones burn up quickly and are gone. This creates a natural buffer zone between any forest fires that start on the mountainside and peoples’ homes.
Roadsides are burned so that fires don’t spread from one village to the next and huge areas of undergrowth around villages are detroyed.
Since then, I have seen many fires raging at night across the surrounding mountains and the blackened and charred remains the next day.