It took 40 hours to put out fire that destroyed 105ha About 11,000 trees on 105 hectares were destroyed in the Pat Sin Leng fire, which started on Saturday and was not put out until early yesterday. Firefighters believe it was caused by a discarded cigarette. Conservation officers have warned New Territories villagers to refrain from releasing giant lanterns, which are suspected of causing a hill fire at Tai Lam Country Park last week. The Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department said its officers found lantern debris after that fire was extinguished on November 27. 'Releasing these lanterns into the air is like releasing fire, and you won't know where it [the lantern] goes, if it causes any accident. This is certainly not an appropriate blessing method,' senior country parks officer Cheung Kwok-wai said yesterday. Villagers inscribe wishes and blessings on the lanterns, called hung ming lanterns, before lighting and releasing them. Mr Cheung said the lanterns in Tai Lam had probably floated from Kam Tin or Yuen Long. 'We will distribute leaflets to villagers to tell them to stop releasing the lanterns,' he said. People who release lanterns cannot be prosecuted, but if their lantern causes a fire, they are liable to a maximum fine of $25,000 and one year's jail. The department has made 14 prosecutions in the past three years. There have been 40 hill fires since September, destroying 189 hectares and 42,100 trees in or near country parks, compared with 28 fires in the same period last year. 'The reason there are so many hill fires this year is the very dry weather; up to now there has only been 1,750mm of rainfall, which is 21 per cent lower than average,' Mr Cheung said. His department was expecting more fires. 'I think fire prevention methods can meet demand, but I hope the public will be more aware of preventing hill fires,' he said. A total of 170 firefighters, 80 departmental employees and 70 members of the Civil Aid Service battled the Pat Sin Leng Country Park fire for 40 hours after it broke out at 6.30pm on Saturday. Two helicopters were also deployed to drop water bombs on the blaze. A government spokeswoman said the fire was put out at 10.30am yesterday. No one was hurt. New Territories North divisional fire services officer Yu Kam-keung said it took so long to extinguish the flames because of strong winds and dry conditions. Three students and two teachers died in a fire in the park in 1996. Mr Cheung said the department would plant 750,000 trees in all 21 country parks next year.