BURNING ISSUES: KEEPING CHING MING FIRES IN CHECK
Although stacks of fake cash are burnt as offerings to ancestors during the Ching Ming Festival, the practice isn't costly - until a careless visitor starts a hill fire.
Last year, there were 55 hill fires on Ching Ming. But, according to a Fire Services Department spokesman, there were also 34 the day before.
The Security Bureau doesn't keep a tally, but many blame hill fires during the grave-sweeping festival for destroying large swathes of park land. In 1999, more than 400 hill fires broke out, damaging some 5,400 trees and 880 hectares of land.
There hasn't been a fatal Ching Ming hill fire in the past decade, and Fire Services officers are determined to keep that good record intact.
'We send staff to the cemeteries every year to hand out flyers and remind people to be careful,' says the spokesman.
'The important things to remember are to burn paper offerings inside a metal container, and to be sure to douse the flames with water when you leave.'
The department is sending a team of volunteers and staff to three black spots in New Territories North to promote hill fire prevention, and two fire trucks will be stationed in Wo Hop Shek Cemetery in Fanling and Sandy Ridge Cemetery in Lok Wu.
'If there is a fire, our officers will arrive in half a minute,' the spokesman says.
In addition, officers from the Food and Environmental Hygiene Department and
Civil Aid Service will help by stepping up patrols in public cemeteries and will provide metal buckets to grave sweepers for incense burning.
Failing to follow the rules can be expensive: lighting a fire in a non-designated area in the countryside risks incurring a fine of up to $25,000 - and up to one year in prison.