For people who have good eyesight and are willing to work 24-hour shifts, here is the ideal job. Consider becoming a fire spotter for the Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department but be warned: members of the fire-lookout team must be able to carry buckets of water across steep slopes and sleep in a tiny hilltop room without a heater in winter. Hong Kong has 11 fire-lookout stations situated at the top of the highest hills in various country parks and special areas. At present, a team of 44 fire spotters work in pairs on 24-hour shifts. Fire Services Department figures released last week show there were 1,501 hill fires last year, which is a 23 per cent increase compared with the previous year. The fire-lookout team is on duty from September to April, as hill fires are more likely in these months. Fires more often occur during the Ching Ming festival in April when people burn offerings at their ancestors' graves and sometimes spark hill fires. If a hill fire is spotted, team members make a report by walkie-talkie to the control centre, which alerts the fire department. Wong Yuen-ching, 51, who has been with the fire-lookout team for 16 years, said spotters seldom made mistakes. 'The only 'mistake' was a fire going out after it was reported,' he said. A pair of keen eyes and binoculars are the most useful and tools for spotting hill fires. 'We would usually detect if there is any smoke during the daytime. The longest distance we can see is around 10km,' Mr Wong said. The job was easier at night, said Mr Wong and his teammate, Man Wai-cheung, who have been stationed at the Hok Tau lookout station in Fanling for 10 years. As well as having good eyesight, fire-lookout teams must know how to live without electricity as some stations have no power. Team members also have to be strong enough to carry water across the hills. Aside from fire spotting, team members also have to avoid distractions such as television, which are in the stations that do have electricity. Their duties include reporting any sightings of the chief executive or government ministers to the control centre. They must also report sightings of illegal immigrants. The causes of hill fires have ranged from war games carried out by the British army before the 1997 handover, to people releasing airborne lanterns for fun in recent years. The job is also key to the management of vegetation in country parks as fires affect the growth of trees and bushes on hills. A University of Hong Kong study on fires in 1994 showed that if half the total area of all country parks was burned at least once in 10 years, it would be impossible for a forest's eco-system to recover. As lookout stations are at some of the highest points in the country parks, they offer panoramic views and there have been many requests that they be opened to the public. The department turns down such requests but later next month the Hok Tau lookout station will open to the public during a Friends of the Earth tree-planting competition.