Major fire at Myanmar refugee camp in Thailand

Major fire at Myanmar refugee camp in Thailand

BANGKOK - Agence France-Presse
Major fire at Myanmar refugee camp in Thailand

A child holds a bowl of rice at a refugee camps in Laiza, an area controlled by the Kachin in northern Myanmar, Sunday, Feb. 12, 2012. AP photo

A major fire broke out on Thursday in a large camp housing Myanmar refugees in Thailand, destroying hundreds of homes, the local district chief said.

The blaze started at about midday (0500 GMT) and quickly spread around the Umpiem Mai border camp, which is home to thousands of refugees, Poth Ruwaranan, head of Phop Phra district in western Tak province, told AFP by telephone.

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

"It's still raging. It's still not under control," Thompson told AFP.

"Patients in the clinic have been evacuated and are staying in the food warehouse." Thompson said the number of houses damaged was more than 1,000 -- "about a third of the camp" -- while Poth put the figure at 300.

"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.

The camp residents "cannot leave the camp as the regulations do not allow them, so those who lost their houses must stay with their relatives or friends inside the camp," he added.

According to the TBBC, a group of international non-governmental organisations operating along the border, as of December the Umpiem Mai camp held more than 17,000 displaced people from Myanmar, also known as Burma.

The 10 camps along the border held 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.