SEOUL • A giant forest fire has swept across swathes of South Korea, as the authorities declared a rare national disaster, deploying some 900 fire engines and tens of thousands of personnel to bring it under control.
Apocalyptic images on television and social media showed walls of flame lighting up the night, buildings ablaze, and clouds of smoke billowing across hillsides during the day in Gangwon province.
The fire broke out late on Thursday alongside a road in the mountainous county of Goseong, about 160km north-east of Seoul, and just 45km from the border with nuclear-armed North Korea.
Fanned by strong winds, the blaze incinerated at least 400 homes and some 500ha of land, according to the government. Among the damaged buildings are nursing facilities and commercial camping sites - the eastern coastal cities are popular resort destinations.
Nearly 4,200 people were evacuated, and one man in his 50s was confirmed dead, the authorities said, adding that 35 people were injured.
The central government yesterday morning declared a state of national disaster, entitling affected areas to special assistance, including goods and equipment, and banning entry to dangerous zones. South Korea declared states of disaster in 2005 in the wake of a massive wildfire in Yangyang in the same province, and in 2007 after South Korea's worst oil spill from a tanker off the western coast of Taean, South Korea's Yonhap news agency reported.
Seoul has shared information with Pyongyang about the fire, and expressed hope for bilateral cooperation if necessary, Yonhap cited the Ministry of Unification as saying.
South Korean President Moon Jae-in visited the areas in Gangwon province most affected by the blaze, meeting residents who were forced to leave their homes.
Wearing a yellow jacket, which symbolises situations of national emergency, Mr Moon visited an elementary school in Goseong where evacuees were staying and Jangcheon village, where many houses are reported to have been burnt down. "I hope you take extra care of displaced victims," Mr Moon told fire officials.
The National Fire Agency said more than 870 fire engines and some 10,000 emergency personnel were dispatched to fight the blaze.
The military sent 32 helicopters, along with fire engines of its own and 16,500 soldiers, to help.
"Fortunately, the main fire has been brought under control," provincial governor Choi Moon-soon said in a radio interview with TV channel YTN, but added that others were still burning.
The authorities are investigating the cause of the blaze. Surveillance footage obtained by Yonhap from a nearby gas station showed sparks from a roadside switchgear instantly growing into a fire.
AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, BLOOMBERG
South Korea battles massive forest fire
South Korea yesterday declared a state of national disaster as a forest fire raged in Gangwon province, 160km north-east of Seoul. Nearly 4,200 people were evacuated and one man was confirmed dead, the authorities said, adding that 35 others were injured.