Hong Kong hill fires show need to temper culture with caution
Year after year, we are faced with hill fires during grave sweeping festivals. During this year’s Ching Ming festival, many hill fires were an inevitability, as the Hong Kong Observatory issued a yellow fire danger warning because of winds and low humidity, along with an exceptionally dry season which left tinder-dry grasses as perfect combustible material (“Hong Kong firefighters tackle almost 100 hillside blazes during Ching Ming festival”, April 5).
Cultural traditions are important and should be respected, but caution must come first. Many families with young children and the elderly visiting the cemeteries in the countryside would no doubt be fearful of hill fires, where many grave sites are located in precarious terrain.
It is regrettable that a few careless grave sweepers become a danger not only to themselves but also to other innocent worshippers, as well as cause enormous damage to the country parks rich in biodiversity.
The police should investigate every single hill fire, enforcing the penalties under the Forests and Countryside Ordinance, which will help pay for the costs incurred in putting the hill fire out by government emergency services and will also act as a deterrent.
Ultimately, legislators should consider the safest option for the protection of grave sweepers, like that of Singapore, where during grave sweeping ceremonies there are designated areas for burning offerings – located away from the hillsides.
Paul Melsom, Mui Wo