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Hong Kong rescue services

Hong Kong firefighters tackle almost 100 hillside blazes during Ching Ming festival

No injuries reported, as one of the largest fires, near Yuen Long, drew 22 fire engines

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 05 April, 2018, 10:23pm
UPDATED : Friday, 06 April, 2018, 12:01am

Almost 100 wild fires kept Hong Kong firefighters busy during the annual Ching Ming festival on Thursday, as grave-sweepers flocked to the countryside to pay their respects to their ancestors at graveyards, many of which are on hillsides.

The Government Flying Service also deployed helicopters to help fight some blazes that broke out, mainly in the New Territories.

One of the largest was reported at a hillside near Ngau Hom, in Lau Fau Shan, near Yuen Long. There, some 15,000 square metres of hillside – roughly the size of two football fields – was torched, with about 10 trucks and vehicles at a nearby open-air car dump reduced to wreckage.

85 Hong Kong hill fires reported during Ching Ming festival three times last year’s number

Firefighters were called in at about 11.15am and the situation was upgraded to a No 3 alarm at 12.45pm. A helicopter was deployed to water bomb the raging fire. It took some 120 firefighters until 3.30pm to extinguish the flames. Twenty-two fire engines were deployed. There were no reports of any injuries.

Fire Services Department New Territories West division commander Chan Ping-keung said initial investigations showed the fire started on the hillside but it was too early to jump to the conclusion that grave-sweepers should be blamed.

The cause still needs to be investigated
Chan Ping-keung, Fire Services Department

Chan said: “The fire was spread quickly by the wind. There are some tombs on the hillside. But the cause still needs to be investigated.”

At Kong Tau Tsuen village, in Shap Pat Heung, Yuen Long, some 35 villagers had to flee their homes after a nearby hillside caught fire just before 2pm, affecting an area of about 3,200 square metres. Firefighters upgraded the fire to a No 3 alarm at 3.26pm. It was eventually put out at about 5.20pm.

The Government Flying Service, meanwhile, reported it had sent its Super Puma helicopters on nine water bombing flights in response to wild fires in Yuen Long, Tin Shui Wai, and Fanling areas between 10.15am and 6pm on Thursday.

No casualties were reported.

By 10pm, a total of 97 hill fires were reported.

Ching Ming festival is one of two annual occasions when people pay respects to their ancestors by sweeping and burning paper offerings at graves. The other event is the Chung Yeung festival.

There were a total of 85 reports of hill fire during last year’s Ching Ming festival.

The Observatory issued the “yellow fire danger” warning – signalling a high fire risk – at 6am on Thursday and it was cancelled at 7.30pm.

The weather on Friday was forecast to be muggier than on Thursday, with relative humidity between 50 and 95 per cent. Temperatures were predicted to range from 18 to 27 degrees Celsius.

Additional reporting by Danny Mok