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Old November 6th, 2006, 05:21 AM   #1
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Tai Lam Country Park Fire

20 years for park to recover after fire
Albert Wong
Hong Kong Standard
Saturday, November 04, 2006

Tai Lam Country Park will take at least 20 years to recover from the destruction of 450 hectares of trees by the biggest hill fire in a decade, according to the senior country parks officer.

The fire, which blazed for 46 hours, was put out around 1.30pm Friday.

Cheung Kwok-wai, from the Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department, said it would take at least 20 years for the trees to regrow, while other experts said it would take 80 years for the whole ecosystem to recover.

An estimated 66,000 trees have been destroyed, and the replanting process could cost HK$2 million.

A total of 600 people, including 100 firefighters, another 100 from the Civil Aid Service, and the Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department, were deployed to fight the fire which began Wednesday on a steep valley near Tuen Mun.

The fire is believed to have broken out as a result of Monday's Chung Yeung festival during which tens of thousands of people burn paper offerings at the graves of their ancestors.

However, the exact cause of the fire is unknown and it could well have been caused by a discarded cigarette butt unrelated to the festival, said a fire services commander.

The hill fire came within two kilometers of Castle Peak Road, near Tuen Mun town.

Members of the Civil Aid Service had to remain on standby overnight Friday, and elderly villagers said they could not sleep throughout the night, fearing the fire would spread.

Yu Kam-keung, fire services commander in charge of the area, said the dry weather and strong winds from Typhoon Cimaron, which killed at least 19 people in the Philippines and had been lingering in the South China Sea, helped spread the blaze.

"It's very windy up on the hill and this has caused the fire to spread in different directions. That makes our job more difficult," Yu said, adding the sheer scale of the blaze, with flames reaching 400 meters high, made it particularly difficult to put it out.

Furthermore, it took firefighters one to two hours just to walk up the hill.

A senior pilot at the Government Flying Service, Wu Wai-hung, said they had used a record two million liters of water to fight the fire.

However, because there were electricity stations and posts, there were areas where they had to be careful not to cause a short-circuit, he said.

Last month was the warmest October for more than 20 years, according to the Hong Kong Observatory.

"The month was also rather dry with only 31.2 millimeters of rainfall, which is about 78 percent below normal," the observatory said.
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