SOKCHO (South Korea) • A thick scent of smoke hung over the town of Goseong in Gangwon province yesterday, amid a mountain fire thought to be South Korea's worst wildfire.
Mr Kim Young-joon, a taxi driver who has been working in Sokcho city in Gangwon province, for 23 years said: "Goseong has several big fires every spring, but I've never seen a fire like this before."
"The fires in the past affected only mountain areas, but Thursday night's fire was especially serious as it spread to populated areas. My close friend has lost his entire house... and another friend also lost his two-storey house and workplace overnight," Mr Kim said, showing mobile phone pictures he received from the victims.
"There was nothing people could do as the fire broke out at night. The wind was extremely strong as well, strong enough that a man couldn't stand upright. Cars flooded out onto the streets, and many were seen refuelling at gas stations," he added.
The acrid odour of smoke got heavier as Mr Kim's taxi approached Toseong-myeon, a town that was destroyed by the fire overnight.
Nearly 4,200 people were evacuated to emergency shelters set up at nearby schools and gyms.
Mr Kim Tae-gi, 69, who was taking temporary shelter at Cheonjin Elementary School, said: "I lost everything."
He was on his way home from his watch as a volunteer wildfire watcher, and had rushed home to save his dog as soon as he received a text alert from the Toseong-myeon office at around 7 pm.
There was no fire when he left his watch post at around 6 pm, he said.
"I escaped from the burning house right after I brought out my dog. I couldn't bring anything else with me," he added.
South Korea is vulnerable to wildfires due to its topography of heavily forested areas on steep slopes, which can accelerate blazes and make them difficult to contain.
Finance Minister Hong Nam-ki said the government has earmarked 4.25 billion won (S$5 million) for emergency recovery efforts.
THE KOREA HERALD/ASIA NEWS NETWORK.