It was too hot for the dogs to bother chasing me, so I took my bike all the way into the meditation center and left it in front of the ramshackle meeting hall. I told the two teenage monks I was going to look at the forest fire and they sprang up like nothing exciting had happened in weeks.
I followed them up the hill for about ten minutes, climbing over rocks in a dry stream bed and swatting big red ants off my neck until we were stopped by a wall of fire up to our knees. The wall continued up the mountain as far as we could see – everything behind it was a black, smouldering wasteland, but the paths were clear and there were some men in masks and uniforms a little way up.
“How are you going to put this out?” I asked. I was on top of the next ridge and there were several walls of fire on the other side (the monks had already lost interest and gone home.)
“We’re burning leaves ahead of the fire to make breaks and trap it,” the forestry guy mumbled into his mask. “We have a helicopter but we don’t use it in the evening.” I’ve never seen a helicopter put out a fire in Thailand. “Some more of our guys are over there, you should go talk to them.”
The fires continued over the next hill and there was another black uniformed forestry official directing some guys with rakes. He forgot about the fire and came over to talk to me.
“It’s been really bad this year. Last year was fine, but we’re out here every week now. Are you from America? I know a guy who’s a forester in Ohio. That’s not where the big fires are though. That’s like Texas or something. I know this farang in Hang Dong who helps put out fires, he just shows up when there’s a really big one.”
“I’d help but I don’t have a rake,” I said. The forester laughed for a second.
“Do you have to pee?”