Published: 02 September 2019
Mr Leon Perera: To ask the Minister for Home Affairs in view of the increased frequency of vegetation fires in 2019, what intermediate and long-term measures are being taken to ensure the early detection and efficient deployment of resources to handle such fires.
1. Mr Speaker sir, the number of vegetation fires has increased in recent years due to factors such as drier and hotter weather. The number in the 1st half of 2019 increased by 56% to 555, from 356 in the first half of 2018.
2. The inter-agency Wildfire Task Force Committee led by SCDF coordinates measures to minimise the risk of vegetation fires. During the dry season, members will step up patrols of hotspots to enable early detection, as well as adopt preventive measures such as removing dead leaves more regularly.
3. For example, NParks has increased patrols and inspections of nature reserves, parks and other vegetated areas to look out for possible fire hazards such as dry leaf litter, and signs of incipient fire. In addition, it is exploring the use of video analytics and drones, and has constructed fire breaks to hinder the spread of fires in nature reserves.
4. SCDF educates members of the public on steps that they can take to prevent and counter such fires. For example, extinguish embers properly if they have started a controlled fire, and don’t discard refractive materials like broken glass into the vegetation, which could focus the sunlight and start a fire. Smokers should not dispose of their cigarette butts illegally.
5. In fact, those who illegally discard cigarette butts can be charged not only under the Environmental Public Health Act for littering, but also under the Penal Code for negligent conduct, should there be a major fire thereafter. The amended Penal Code, which will come into force in 2020, will empower the Police and SCDF to take even firmer action, by introducing a new offence of causing or contributing to the risk of a dangerous fire, and a presumption clause. In future, should a fire happen within 60 minutes at the place where someone had illegally disposed of a cigarette butt, the person would be presumed to be culpable for the fire and duly charged. This makes it harder for offenders to escape justice.