Firefighters deployed five helicopters to help put out a hill fire in Sai Kung Country Park that is believed to have been started by an illumination flare fired by police during an operation against illegal immigrants before dawn yesterday.
The blaze started near a hilltop in Nam She Tsim at about 4.30am, when more than 40 officers and 11 tracking dogs raided a makeshift shelter used by mainland illegal immigrants on a hillside in Nam She Wan.
Five men escaped from the shelter and ran off. Officers gave chase, said Superintendent Jackie Ling Wai-po of the Small Boat Unit, and fired several rounds of flares.
'To help colleagues on land, officers on two police craft at a nearby beach fired five rounds of flares to light up the area,' he said.
'But one of the flares was blown away by strong winds and it [seemingly] caused a small fire near a hilltop. We immediately alerted the Fire Services Department.'
After a brief chase, four mainland men aged between 18 and 26 were arrested, but a fifth man managed to escape.
Three officers and two of the mainlanders were injured during the chase. They were taken to Tseung Kwan O Hospital.
According to the Information Services Department, at about 7am the fire covered an area 1km by 1.5km and firemen called in the Government Flying Service.
Government Flying Service operational manager Calvin Shum Chi-wai said five helicopters were involved in the fire-fighting operation. One was used to take a team of firemen to the hilltop at about 7am.
'Another four helicopters were engaged in making water drops between 8.30am and 12.30pm,' he said. 'The fire spread quickly over a vast area due to strong winds. At about 9am, there were two fire lines as long as 1km each.'
The Fire Services Department said the hill fire was put out at about 12.30pm and no reports of injuries were received.
Superintendent Ling said a flare could reach an altitude of up to 180 metres and stay aloft between one to two minutes.
He said police conduct reviews after each operation to see what could be improved.
The six-hour operation, which ended at 6am, involved officers from the rural patrol unit of Sai Kung police station, Marine North Division, the Small Boat Unit and the police dog unit.
A heat detector on board a marine police launch was also used to mount a search in the darkness.
At about 3am, 11 dogs and their handlers were taken on two police craft to a beach near Nam She Wan.
Police said the mainlanders were suspected of sneaking into Hong Kong to steal Buddhist pines, also known as fung shui trees, in the country park.
The makeshift shelter, built with branches and nylon sheets and equipped with some cooking utensils, had been spotted by officers from the Sai Kung rural patrol unit on Wednesday.