(Nakhon Nayok) In Thailand, hundreds of firefighters and soldiers were battling a forest fire less than 100 kilometers from Bangkok on Friday, in the midst of a wave of air pollution that has already affected 1.7 million people since the start of the pandemic. year in the kingdom.

The fire has already ravaged at least 800,000 square meters of forest, the size of 100 football fields, across three hills in Nakhon Nayok province, and two districts have been declared emergency zones.

The blaze comes as Thailand faces a pollution spike caused in part by burning farmers.

Since the beginning of the year, 1,730,000 people have had to be treated in hospital for respiratory problems due to air pollution, according to the latest figures from the Ministry of Health.

The fire does not threaten any urban center, but it is close to the boundary of Khao Yai National Park, the oldest national park in the kingdom, which is part of a UNESCO-listed forest complex extending to at the Cambodian border.

Thai Prime Minister Prayut Chan-O-Cha has dispatched his interior minister to coordinate operations on the ground, his office said in a statement.

“Prime Minister Prayut and the Minister of Defense are closely monitoring the wildfire situation in Nakon Nayok and have ordered relevant organizations to help extinguish the fire urgently,” the government spokesperson said. , Anucha Burapachaisri.

On Thursday, Mr Prayut, a candidate for a new term in the May 14 elections, asked the ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) secretary general to help him coordinate efforts to reduce pollution. cross-border caused by agricultural burning.

Farmers across Southeast Asia burn stubble in fields every year after harvest, leading to widespread air pollution.

Northern Thailand is particularly affected, and this week the cities of Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai topped the list of the world’s most polluted cities compiled by monitoring firm IQAir, ahead of capitals like New Delhi and Beijing.