Fire leaves hundreds of refugees homeless on Karenni border

Fire leaves hundreds of refugees homeless on Karenni border

A devastating fire in a refugee camp in northern Thailand’s Mae Hong Son has left over 600 homeless and in need of immediate assistance.

Over 150 homes were destroyed in the fire that broke out on 7 April, and that spread quickly across the Karenni Refugee Camp 1, which is home to around 11,000 Karenni Refugees, said Naw Hku Paw, vice-chairperson of the camp’s committee.

“The blaze started at the house numbered 117. The owner of the house went out after cooking and didn’t properly put out the stove fire. It was a hot summer day and the wind was quite strong, the effort by residents to put out the blaze was also hindered by a shortage of water in the neighbourhood. As a result, many homes were lost,” said Naw Hku Paw. He said that the whole of the hillside neighbourhood Ward 1 had been burnt to the ground.

“The residents lost all of their clothing, blankets and household materials in the fire, and need a lot of help,” he said.

The Border Consortium provides food, shelter and other forms of support to approximately 120,000 refugees on the Thai-Burmese border, including residents of Karenni Refugee Camp 1. As of Wednesday night, NGO put the figure of affected households at between 200 and 250.

“The main thing at the moment is that everyone is very relieved that there are minimal casualties, there have been no fatalities and no serious injuries,” said the group’s executive director, Sally Thompson.

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“Some people’s houses were destroyed by fire, other people’s houses were torn down as firebreaks.”

“By and large at the moment everyone is trying to gather the specifics of the affected population, so that we can better assess the needs.”

A primary school and an administrative office were also destroyed in the fire.

Victims of the fire last night were being provided with shelter in nearby wards.

The fire reportedly began at around 11am in the morning and was extinguished at around 2pm after Thai authorities dispatched two fire trucks.

Karenni Refugee Camp 1 contains nearly 2,500 households in 17 wards. The camp had faced similar fire incidents in 2011 and 2013.

On Monday, a smaller fire had broken out at a second camp in the Mae Hong Son region. The blaze started at around 10pm at Mae Hong La camp, which houses around 15,000 refugees who were relocated from the Sala camp for displaced peoples in 2004. No casualties were recorded.

Cramped conditions, buildings made from wood and bamboo, a lack of access to water and poor emergency service access make fires particular hazardous in the refugee camps which house thousands along the Thai-Burma border.

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