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LCQ9: Prevention of hill fires

    Following is a question by the Hon Choy So-yuk and a written reply by the Secretary for the Environment, Mr Edward Yau, in the Legislative Council today (January 23):


     It has been reported that the Number 3 alarm fire at Por Lo Shan in Tuen Mun early this month was suspected to have been caused by kindling materials left behind by people negligently.  The hill fire burnt for two days and nights, destroying vegetation in an area of 800-hectare, which is equivalent to a total area of 42 Victoria Parks.  It is estimated that at least 10 years are needed to restore the vegetation destroyed.  In this connection, will the Government inform this Council:

(a) last year, of the number of hill fires, the number and total area of trees destroyed, the economic losses involved, the respective numbers of hill fires the causes of which involved human negligence or were unknown, the number of people convicted because of those hill fires and their penalties, and how such figures compare to the relevant figures of 2006;

(b) whether it will reconsider increasing the current maximum penalty (i.e. a fine of $25,000 and imprisonment for one year) for lighting a fire in or near any forest, plantation or area of open countryside so as to enhance the deterrent effect; if it will, of the details; if not, the reasons for that; and

(c) whether it will consider specifying a fire emergency period to strictly prohibit the lighting of any fire in the area of certain designated country parks during a certain period of time each year or when the relative humidity is lower than the prescribed level; if it will, of the details; if not, the reasons for that?


Madam President,

(a) The number of hill fires and related statistics for the past two years are given below:

                            2006     2007  Percentage
No. of hill fires            1,273   1,272    0%
Area affected (hectare)      2,296   1,233   -46%
No. of trees destroyed#     75,400   20,600   -73%

Prosecution figures         2006         2007
No. of cases                15            9*
Fine                 $250 - $1,000    $250 - $2,500

# The figures only include the trees destroyed by hill fires within country parks.  No statistics have been compiled for the number of trees destroyed in hill fires outside country parks.
*including 5 prosecution cases which are pending trial

     We believe that the great majority of hill fires in the territory are caused by human negligence and kindling materials carelessly left behind by visitors.  Among the hill fires of 2006 and 2007, 83 and 70 cases respectively were classified as due to ¡§unknown causes¡¨, while the rest was related to human negligence.

     Hill fires spoil the ecological environment and countryside scenery, they also cause various degrees of harm and destruction to animals and their habitats.  Furthermore, the burning away of vegetation will result in soil erosion, which may lead to long-term impact.  Therefore, hill fires could bring significant damages to the overall ecological environment.  However, as the vegetation destroyed by fire involves a wide variety of species and the tree ages vary, we cannot provide the total value of economic loss.

(b) Under the Forests and Countryside Ordinance (Cap. 96), the maximum penalty for illegal lighting of any fire in any forest or country park is a fine of $25,000 and one-year imprisonment.  We consider that these penalties already have deterrent effect.  Besides, the annual number of hill fires had dropped from about 3,300 in 1999 to about 1,200 in recent years.  This illustrates that the public awareness of hill fire prevention had been generally enhanced.  We will continue with the civic education and publicity in hill fire prevention, and will review from time to time the need for increasing the maximum penalty.

(c) At present, lighting or use of fire are controlled in all areas of country parks, except for domestic premises, designated barbecue or camping sites.  Barbecue or camping sites are mostly located on the periphery of country parks, and are unlikely to cause hill fire.  Besides, hill fires occurred in country parks in the past did not take place in these areas.  Therefore, it will not be effective in preventing hill fires by further prohibiting the lighting of any fire on certain specified days in the few sites where lighting of fire is allowed.

Ends/Wednesday, January 23, 2008
Issued at HKT 16:12


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