In Brief

South Korea wildfires: government declares national disaster

At least one person has died and thousands have fled their homes as blaze engulfs border region

The South Korean government has declared a natural disaster as raging wildfires in the northeast of the country force thousands of residents to flee their homes.

At least one person is reported to have died in the blaze, which broke out in Goseong county in Gangwon Province, a mountainous region close to the border with North Korea, on Thursday evening.

Authorities believe the fire began with a spark from an electrical transformer, which was then fanned by strong winds.

As the blaze spread to residential areas, “some 4,000 people were evacuated to emergency shelters set up at nearby schools and gyms”, reports The Korea Herald.

According to The Korea Times, a 60-year-old man has died as a result of the fire, and another person was seriously injured. More than 30 people have been treated for minor injuries.

“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,” says Channel News Asia.

Hundreds of properties are reported to have been destroyed as flames engulfed several residential areas, along with an estimated 250 hectares of forest.

Thousands of soldiers have been drafted in to help firefighters battle the blaze, aided by 32 military helicopters and more than 800 extra fire engines borrowed from brigades around the country, reports the BBC.

This morning, Gangwon Province Governor Choi Moon-soon told the media that the main fire has been brought under control but that smaller blazes continued to burn.

South Korean President Moon Jae-in has travelled to the region to meet residents evacuated from their homes.

“Moon and his staff wore yellow jackets, which symbolise situations of national emergency,” according to Channel News Asia.

The Gangwon wildfires mark the first time Seoul has declared a natural disaster since 2007, when a crude oil carrier leaked thousands of tonnes of oil into the sea off the country’s west coast.

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