South Korea declared a national emergency on Friday morning after a huge wildfire raged across the country’s northeastern coastal area on Thursday night, leaving at least one dead and 11 injured and forcing the evacuation of more than 4,000.
Television news on Thursday night showed apocalyptic-type long-range footage of massive fires blazing across hills, close-ups of firefighters silhouetted against flames as they struggled to extinguish blazing buildings and cars racing along highways through a gauntlet of flames and flying sparks.
News this morning indicated that the blaze had been contained. Footage showed firefighters hosing down ashen buildings and burned vehicles piled up in parking lots that had been swept by the blaze, while military Chinook helicopters used huge buckets to scoop water from the sea and dump it on still-smoldering areas inland.
Evacuees were shown sleeping under space blankets in reception centers.
The inferno reportedly impacted five cities and counties in Gangwon Province, in the country’s northeast, where last year’s Winter Olympics took place. The size of the blaze was described by authorities as at “an unprecedented extent.” Operations on roads and rail lines in the region were halted and schools closed.
Almost 900 firetrucks were deployed from across the country and 13,000 rescue officials, including military and police, had been working since Thursday night to contain the fire and assist with evacuations, Yonhap news agency reported. The blaze had so far burned 385 hectares of forest and destroyed at least 300 buildings.
Early indications were that the inferno was sparked by an electrical fire ignited by faulty wiring on a telephone pole at the base of a hillside in Goseong, the eastern coastal county which is directly south of the DMZ. From there, it spread, helped by dry conditions and fanned by strong winds.