Devastating hill-fires are preventable
Do Hong Kong people care about the countryside? One only needs to look at the litter left near barbecue areas, along trails and on our beaches. Even more heartbreaking is the sight of hill-fires, caused by grave visitors, year after year.
Over just three days during the Ching Ming Festival, more than 432 hill-fires destroyed 880 hectares of our beautiful countryside; 38 of those fires occurred in country parks.
We cannot stand by and watch this happen.
There has to be more education and more publicity about a code of conduct for grave sweepers and people must be effectively warned about the consequences of their actions. There must be better co-ordination between various government departments and district organisations, such as the Agriculture and Fisheries Department, the Fire Services Department, Government Information Services, the Home Affairs Department, the District Lands Offices, District Boards and the Heung Yee Kuk. The departments must reach out to rural as well as urban residents.
Lighting a fire in a non-designated area of a country park is an offence. The penalty is $5,000 and one year's imprisonment. But the enforcement authority, the Agriculture and Fisheries Department has been hesitant when it comes to prosecuting grave sweepers and this is unacceptable. Observing cultural traditions cannot be used as an excuse for committing such a crime.
Fire-crackers are traditional, but they were banned from Chinese New Year celebrations, to prevent injury.
The Country Park Ordinance is to be reviewed. A redrafted version will be tabled before the Legislative Council later this year. So, it is an opportune time to demand a heavier penalty and more stringent enforcement action against hill-fire crimes committed within protected country parks and special areas.
Preventive measures must be beefed up. It is not enough to issue a red fire hazard signal. A map indicating high risk zones in respect of weather and soil conditions as well as past casualty and fire hazard records would be useful information for the public as well as for the deployment of park wardens and fire-fighting manpower resources.
The Government should try to involve community groups, hikers and ordinary concerned citizens as volunteers, trained to be regular hill-fire spotters and to stand by with fire beaters to ensure the final sparks are extinguished.
With air pollution getting worse in Hong Kong, our countryside will become more important as a carbon sink and a precious green lung. Trees and woodlands help to prevent soil erosion and landslides, and they also act as water catchment providing 30 per cent of the 'clean' drinking water we need. We must stop the destructive and negligent behaviour that threatens lives and endangers the natural assets that we all share.
E-mail your views and suggestions to prevent hill-fires to Friends of the Earth (HK) Web site at, email@example.com. We shall forward them to the appropriate authorities.
MEI NG Director Friends of the Earth (HK)