As Bangkok focuses on Covid-19, the north faces a two-front war.
While Bangkok has been focused squarely on Covid-19, major destruction has been unraveling in Chiang Mai. The province has been battling hundreds of bushfires, the worst of which broke out in Doi Suthep-Pui National Park on Mar 17 and continues to rage, leaving extensive damage in its wake. Hundreds of firefighters and soldiers have been deployed to bring the blaze under control.
Chef Phanuphon “Black” Bulsuwan of Chiang Mai’s Blackitch Artisan Kitchen has been on the scene since day one. “The fires were so bad and now with the Covid situation, we are experiencing very difficult times,” he says. Unable to sit still, with his restaurant temporarily shuttered, Black teamed up with friends in the F&B industry to develop some much needed community outreach initiatives. “At the moment, we are collecting donations so we can buy supplies like masks, medicine, food and even aloe vera. If people want to drop off these supplies so we can distribute them, we will take it.” The chef has also been using the kitchen at Blackitch to prepare meals to donate to those in need. “We are cooking food for firefighters, for people fighting with Covid and for those who have lost their jobs and have no means.”
Despite government no-burning measures, fires continue to break out across the north. On Mar 24, the Bangkok Post reported that “Thailand’s second-largest province is struggling to battle hundreds of bushfires which have raged over the past week, with 444 hotspots detected across 20 districts yesterday.” Since then, PM2.5 levels have rocketed to record highs, positioning Chiang Mai as one of the most polluted cities in the world, according to IQAir’s world air quality ranking, where it even reached first place on Apr 2.
“There are many people right now who can’t leave their homes, not only because of the horrible pollution but because people are afraid of the virus. We just want to be here and give back to our community as much as possible and we are so inspired and humbled by all the kindness we’ve seen,” says chef Black, who, with the help of his friends and family, is continuously sending meals to three hospitals in Chiang Mai, as well as to local people living in the hard-to-reach mountainous regions. They have also set up food pick-up points throughout the city.