Ghost Month and the Hungry Ghost Festival: Safety tips when burning incense, joss paper

Women burn incense sticks as offerings during the Hungry Ghost Festival celebrated in Singapore. (PHOTO: AP/Wong Maye-E)
Women burn incense sticks as offerings during the Hungry Ghost Festival celebrated in Singapore. (PHOTO: AP/Wong Maye-E)

The Ghost Month, and the Hungry Ghost Festival, is here again.

Apart from noting the key dates and events, and being mindful of the taboos, do you know the rules when it comes to the burning of incense and joss paper?

One concern during the seventh lunar month associated with this tradition is the heightened risk of fires.

The Singapore Civil Defence Force has provided some fire safety tips to minimise any potential fire hazards during this period. There are also some environmental public health regulations to abide by.

1. Always burn incense papers in the incense burners or metal containers provided by the Town Council

As those of us living in HDB flats might have already noticed, incense burners have been strategically placed around the public housing estates by the Town Councils.

Residents are advised to make full use of these metal containers (which are also for use beyond the seventh month).

Burning the incense papers on the floor may not only be a fire hazard, but it also leaves burnt marks on a public space.

2. Avoid placing joss sticks or candles on grass patches or fields

Another potential fire hazard, sparks or residual fire from the joss sticks or candles may land on surrounding areas.

Grass patches or fields are more susceptible to catching fire, which is exacerbated when there are dried leaves or grass.

3. Place burners and containers on a sturdy ground at a safe distance away from combustible materials and residential premises

Incense burners may topple over if they are placed on unstable ground, causing their fiery contents to spill out.

Keeping them away from combustible materials and residential premises is also ideal, in case the burning ashes are blown out from the containers by the wind.

4. Ensure smouldering embers are completely extinguished before leaving

There is an old Chinese saying that goes, "A single spark can start a prairie fire."

Similarly, a small residual fire from the burning of incense and joss paper may lead to an extensive fire in the area.

Taking greater precaution is recommended.

5. No burning of joss sticks and candles that exceed certain sizes

Under the Environmental Public Health Act, the burning of joss sticks that exceed 200cm in height or 7.5cm in diameter, and candles that exceed 60cm in height are prohibited.

While these sizes are way bigger or taller than your usual joss sticks and candles, you should note offenders are liable on conviction to a fine not exceeding $2,000.

Here's what you need to know about the Hungry Ghost Festival and the Ghost Month.

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