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LCQ3: Hill fire at Nam Sang Wai
     Following is a question by the Hon Leung Che-cheung and a reply by the Secretary for the Environment, Mr Wong Kam-sing, in the Legislative Council today (March 28):
     It has been reported that Nam Sang Wai of Yuen Long is the major feeding and roosting ground for migratory birds, and the cormorants staying there overnight account for 30 per cent to 60 per cent of the cormorant population in Deep Bay. In the past few years, a number of fires broke out in Nam Sang Wai, with the most recent one occurring in the middle of this month. As the cause of that fire was suspicious, it has been classified by the Police as a suspected arson case. In this connection, will the Government inform this Council:
(1) as the fire that broke out in Nam Sang Wai in the middle of this month lasted for 17 hours before it was put out, and that some members of the public consider that the pace of that firefighting operation was too slow, of the difficulties encountered by firemen in the aforesaid firefighting operation, and whether the Fire Services Department had, in the light of the high ecological value of the place, deployed more firemen to the scene for putting out the fire, with a view to reducing the damage caused by the fire to the ecology of Nam Sang Wai; if not, of the reasons for that;
(2) as some members of the public have pointed out that a number of fires broke out and a number of tree-felling incidents occurred in Nam Sang Wai in the past few years, which have revealed the inadequacy of the Government's policies and measures in conserving lands of high ecological value, whether the Government will consider resuming private lands of extremely high ecological value and offering reasonable compensation to affected landowners and fishermen, as well as enacting a dedicated legislation to enhance the conservation of such lands; if not, of the reasons for that; and
(3) apart from the Police's current investigation into the fire that broke out in Nam Sang Wai in the middle of this month, whether the other government departments concerned have followed up the repeated occurrences of fires in Nam Sang Wai, including studying the impacts of such fires on the ecological value, environment and migratory birds in that area, formulating post-disaster rehabilitation plans and preventing arson attacks to Nam Sang Wai; if so, of the details?
     In consultation with the Security Bureau (SB), the Fire Services Department (FSD), the Hong Kong Police Force (Police) and the Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department (AFCD), my reply to Hon Leung Che-cheung's questions is as follows:
(1) & (3) For the hill fire at Nam Sang Wai on March 12, 2018, the Fire Services Communications Centre received a report on the incident some time after 3pm that day, and despatched a fire appliance to the site. Fire personnel arrived about 16 minutes later, and subsequently two more fire appliances turned out as reinforcements to help tackle the fire. Assistance was also sought from the Government Flying Service (GFS) to deploy helicopters for water bombing at the site.

     The area of the fire scene was about 7.5 hectares. The dense overgrowth of reeds of more than one metre tall contributed to the rapid fire spread. In addition, as the reeds that caught fire grew on a wetland, the fire personnel had to manoeuvre with the lower part of their bodies immersed in the wetland while fighting the fire, impeding their movement and increasing the risks they faced during the operation.

     About 11pm that night, most of the fire in the affected areas was put out. As the hill fire covered an extensive area, to ensure that the fire was completely put out, the FSD conducted another surveillance and firefighting operation with the GFS at about 7am on the following day (i.e. March 13) to douse the remaining embers and prevent the fire from rekindling. The FSD announced at 8.15am that the hill fire was completely put out.

     During this hill fire incident, the FSD fought the blaze by mobilising a total of eight fire appliances and 42 fire personnel. In each firefighting operation, the FSD will flexibly deploy its manpower and resources, taking into account the risk assessment and firefighting strategy, and will seek assistance from the GFS to deploy helicopters for water bombing at the site depending on circumstances.

     As hill fire recurred at about 3pm on March 13 at Nam Sang Wai and based on the evidence collected at the fire scene, the FSD was suspicious about the cause of fire. The two hill fire incidents have been referred to the Police for investigation. At present, the Police has temporarily classified the case as arson for follow up, and so far no one has been arrested.

     The AFCD have conducted site inspection at Nam Sang Wai immediately after the incident. It was found that the fire incident affected part of the grassy vegetation on pond bunds and reedbeds in Nam Sang Wai. Fortunately, various species of birds, including black-faced spoonbills, cormorants and reedbed-associated birds were observed to continue foraging or roosting in Nam Sang Wai after the fire. No significant or long-term ecological impacts to Nam Sang Wai were observed at the moment.

     The affected reeds and grasses are fast-growing plants. These plants would readily regenerate in the coming wet season and thus restoration work is considered not necessary. The AFCD will continue to closely monitor the conditions of Nam Sang Wai to assess any ecological impacts due to the fire. The AFCD, the FSD and the Police will also step up patrol in the area.

(2) The Government has explored the option of resuming private land with high conservation value when conducting consultation for the nature conservation policy in 2003, and concluded that there should not be land resumption or compensation for nature conservation purposes per se because land resumption would involve huge financial and/or land resources and thus would not be a sustainable option to handle private lands with conservation value. Also, the land resumption process would involve complicated issues related to private land ownership. The Government has no plan to change this existing policy.

     The Government introduced the New Nature Conservation Policy in 2004 to enhance conservation of ecologically important sites that are under private ownership. We are pursuing practicable ways to achieve this while respecting the landowners’ property rights. The Government has identified 12 priority sites for enhanced conservation, and the Deep Bay Wetland outside Ramsar Site, which includes Nam Sang Wai, ranks 9th amongst the 12 sites based on its ecological value. At these 12 priority sites for enhanced conservation, the Government implements the Public-private Partnership Scheme and, through funding support by the Environment and Conservation Fund (ECF), the Nature Conservation Management Agreement Scheme (MA Scheme). By providing financial incentives, both Schemes encourage the participation of landowners, non-governmental organisations and the private sector in nature conservation works. The Government has also reviewed the two schemes in 2011 and made a number of enhancements. At present, the ECF supports seven MA Schemes at Fung Yuen, Long Valley and Ho Sheung Heung, Ramsar Site, Deep Bay Wetland outside Ramsar Site, Sai Wan, Lai Chi Wo and Sha Lo Tung. We will review the implementation and effectiveness of relevant policies and measures from time to time and will conduct review again where necessary.
Ends/Wednesday, March 28, 2018
Issued at HKT 14:45
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