Fire Sweeps Through Umpiem Mai Refugee Camp

February 24, 2012
AFP
The fire quickly spread around Umpiem Mai camp, destroying hundreds of homes

Community Partners International provides public health training and support for Umpiem Mai refugee camp's Kaw Lay Junior College. Our co-director of development for the college's Public Health Institute was teaching at the camp at the time of the fire, and was able to get herself and all her students to safety. While there are no reports of major injuries, and the Public Health Institute's classroom and supplies escaped damage, thousands lost homes and possessions — further devastating families already displaced by strife. Umpiem Mai, located south of Mae Sot, Thailand, is Thailand's second largest refugee camp. Several of our local partners are part of the Thailand Burma Border Consortium (TBBC), which coordinated news updates and emergency relief.

Agence France-Presse (AFP):  Fire at Myanmar refugee camp

A huge fire swept through a crowded Thai border camp home to thousands of refugees from neighbouring Myanmar on Thursday, destroying hundreds of homes, the authorities said.

The blaze started at about midday (0500 GMT) and quickly spread around the Umpiem Mai refugee camp, said Poth Ruwaranan, head of Phop Phra district in western Tak province.

He told AFP that there were no reports of casualties, but Sally Thompson of the Thai Burma Border Consortium (TBBC), which provides food and shelter at ten border camps, said she had heard of children suffering burns.

"Patients in the clinic have been evacuated and are staying in the food warehouse," she said.

Thompson said more than 1,000 houses, three mosques and two nursery schools were destroyed -- "about a third of the camp" -- while Poth put the figure at 300 homes.

"We believe that the fire started when they cooked. As the houses are made of bamboo and leaves, it spread too fast, especially with the hot and dry weather and strong wind," the district chief said.

Residents were not allowed to leave the camp, so those who lost their homes would have to stay with relatives or friends on the site, he added.

Camp manager Khetthai Wongsuwan later said the fire had been extinguished and food was being distributed for those affected.

"We will provide materials such as wood and equipment for them to build new houses in the same place," he said.

More than 17,000 displaced people from Myanmar were staying in the Umpiem Mai camp as of December, according to figures from the TBBC, a group of international non-governmental organisations operating along the border.

Ten camps house a total of about 136,000 people, who first began arriving in the 1980s. Many of the refugees have fled conflict zones in ethnic areas of Myanmar, also known as Burma.

 

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