Appalled by officials' apathy while fires raged

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 09 April, 1998, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 09 April, 1998, 12:00am

Ching Ming is over and once again our land is showing the painful scars.

Huge tracts of hillsides, thousands of trees and countless small creatures were destroyed. I have long given up hope that those visiting rural graves will pay heed to fire safety or the environment.

We are used to hills being strewn with the detritus of Ching Ming - countless pink plastic bags, string and drink containers left beside 'cleaned' graves - but it is hard to accept the necessity of the fires.

What I can't understand is why fire services and community leaders were not prepared for the consequences of so many people playing with fire in tinder-dry grass on a hot, windy day. On Lamma, there were no firemen patrolling burial grounds, to warn of the dangers and extinguish fires while it was still possible.

By the time the fires were blown across the hills there was little anyone could do, except wait in vain for helicopters, of which there were obviously too few to cope with the 183 hill fires that broke out during the day. Surely local councils could deploy more staff or organise teams of volunteer firefighters to support the regular fire service and be on hand as people abandoned burning offerings.

The non-Cantonese are more than ready to help in our community. Without prompting some put themselves at risk on Sunday to do so, but without adequate equipment. Signs warning of the fire risk would also help. The current government apathy and lack of common sense in how this dangerous day is managed is staggering.

The denuding of vegetation surrounding graves and the vast fires have a long-term effect on our countryside, increasing soil erosion and the risk of landslides and degrading the hills. It is not only birds, small animals and plants that are at risk during Ching Ming, but people and rural homes too. Surely ghosts do not require us to go to such destructive lengths to pay our respects.

K. S. ZHANG Lamma