Firefighters responded to 85 hill fires that broke out during Tuesday's grave sweeping festival. Photo: Wikimedia Commons/HK Government

A total of 85 hill fires kept Hong Kong firefighters busy during the annual Ching Ming grave sweeping festival on Tuesday. Dry conditions contributed to the number of fires, which was more than three times the number recorded in the same period last year, according to the Fire Services Department.

The biggest blaze was in Yuen Leng, Fanling, where an area of approximately 250,000 square metres – roughly 35 football fields – of hillside land caught fire shortly before 1pm. Firefighters took about three hours to extinguish the flames, a government spokeswoman said.

Another hill fire, covering an area of 10,000 square metres, broke out in Tai Yeung Che, Tai Po, at about 10am. It was put out shortly before 11.30am. No casualties were reported in the incidents, the spokeswoman said.

The spokeswoman said no helicopters were deployed in both cases.

A helicopter was sent to perform a water drop when a hillside caught fire near Shui Chuen O Estate in Sha Tin at midday.

There were 26 reports of hill fire during last year’s Ching Ming festival when an amber rainstorm warning signal was in force for nearly three hours. According to the Hong Kong Observatory, the yellow fire danger warning – indicating high fire risk – was issued at 6am Tuesday and cancelled 12 hours later.

Ching Ming festival is one of two annual occasions when people pay respects to their ancestors by sweeping and burning paper offerings at graves. The other event is the Chung Yeung festival.

In the past five years, the government spent a total of HK$21.5 million (US$2.77 million) on reforestation of fire damaged areas of country parks, according to the Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department.

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