56% increase in vegetation fires in first half of 2019: Shanmugam

56% increase in vegetation fires in first half of 2019: Shanmugam

Lim Chu Kang fire
A fire near Lim Chu Kang Chinese Cemetery on Mar 4, 2019. (Photo: SCDF)

SINGAPORE: There were 555 vegetation fires in Singapore in the first half of this year, a 56 per cent increase from the 356 cases in the same period last year, said Minister for Home Affairs K Shanmugam on Monday (Sep 2).

Mr Shanmugam was responding to a question submitted in Parliament by Non-Constituency Member of Parliament Leon Perera, who had asked what measures were being taken to ensure the early detection of vegetation fires and the efficient deployment of resources to handle them.

In his written reply, Mr Shanmugam noted that the number of vegetation fires has risen in recent years due to factors such as drier and hotter weather.

READ: August 2019 likely the driest and warmest on record, says Met Service

READ: First dry spell in Singapore in more than 5 years - Met Service

The inter-agency Wildfire Task Force Committee, which is led by the Singapore Civil Defence Force (SCDF), is tasked with coordinating measures to minimise the risk of vegetation fires, he said.

“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,” said Mr Shanmugam.

“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.”

He said NParks is also exploring the use of drones and video analytics, and has constructed fire breaks to hinder the spread of fires in the nature reserves.

FIRMER ACTION AGAINST LITTERING

Mr Shanmugam, who is also Minister for Law, added that under an amended Penal Code, those who illegally discard cigarette butts can be charged not only for littering, but also for negligent conduct should there be a major fire thereafter.

The amended Penal code, which will take effect in 2020, will "empower the police and SCDF" to take firmer action against litterbugs by introducing a new offence of causing or contributing to the risk of a dangerous fire.

READ: Vegetation fire the size of 2 football fields breaks out near East Coast Park

READ: SCDF puts out fire near Lim Chu Kang cemetery after battling for nearly a day

“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,” said Mr Shanmugam.

“This makes it harder for offenders to escape justice.”

Apart from those measures, Mr Shanmugam said SCDF is also educating members of the public on steps to prevent and counter vegetation fires.

These include extinguishing embers of controlled fires properly and not discarding refractive materials like broken glass into vegetation where they could focus sunlight and start a fire.

Source: CNA/ec(hs)

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