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(2nd LD) Moon declares blaze-hit areas special disaster zone

All Headlines 15:26 April 06, 2019

(ATTN: CHANGES slug to reflect latest update; ADDS details throughout; UPDATES photos)

SEOUL, April 6 (Yonhap) -- President Moon Jae-in designated the eastern areas engulfed by a recent blaze as a special disaster zone Saturday, a move that will expedite the government's support to the affected areas and their residents.

Five cities and counties in Gangwon Province -- the counties of Goseong, Inje and Sokcho, as well as Gangneung and Donghae cities -- are subject to the designation, according to the presidential office Cheong Wa Dae.

The move will allow the government to spend state money on stabilizing residents' livelihoods in the affected areas and support damage recovery.

The move came as the government declared a state of national disaster Friday over the blaze in the border town of Goseong and its neighboring cities.

"Pan-government support will be provided to the affected areas. The government will focus on damage recovery and restoration work with active support," Cheong Wa Dae vice spokeswoman Ko Min-jung said.

This photo, taken April 6, 2019, shows a house badly damaged by a blaze in Goseong, about 160 kilometers northeast of Seoul. (Yonhap)

Earlier in the day, Prime Minister Lee Nak-yon proposed to Moon the idea of declaring a special disaster zone.

It marked the sixth such declaration under the Moon government, including the latest in October 2018 over typhoon damage in southern provinces.

It was also the third wildfire-related designation following a 2000 fire on the east coast and a blaze in Yangyang, Gangwon Province, in 2005.

The fire started in the mountainous county of Goseong, about 160 kilometers northeast of Seoul, on Thursday night and fast spread into the neighboring Sokcho, Gangneung and Donghae cities and within hours.

The blaze left one man dead and injured 11 others. Ten of them returned home later after treatment, leaving one injured.

Nearly 4,000 residents were evacuated into make-shift shelters, of whom some 3,700 people returned home later, the government said.

Prime Minister Lee said the operation that mobilized the largest number of firefighters and equipment ever helped contain the devastating blaze in one day.

"Considering the size of the wildfire and its force, the blaze was swiftly contained, but it left massive damage and scars," Lee said at a meeting with relevant ministers over the blaze.

Around 530 hectares of land -- equivalent to an area nearly 1.6 times larger than Central Park in New York -- are estimated to have been devastated by the fire.

Around 300 houses and buildings are projected to have been burned with damage to agricultural facilities estimated at some 5.2 billion won (US$4.6 million).

Authorities are ramping up efforts to put out embers on concerns that wildfires could break out again during the dry season.

Rival parties welcomed the government's designation, vowing efforts to cooperate for damage recovery.

"We will spare no effort to offer legal and institutional support that ranges from the supply of daily necessities for the displaced to the restoration of houses and facilities," said Rep. Hong Ik-pyo, spokesman of the ruling Democratic Party (DP).

The main opposition Liberty Korea Party called on the government to swiftly kick off recovery work and provide assistance to victims.

South Korean soldiers are deployed to find and put out embers on a mountain in Gangneung, 237 kilometers east of Seoul, on April 6, 2019, as the country works to fully contain the blaze that engulfed the eastern province, in this photo provided by the 8th Army Corps. (Yonhap)

sooyeon@yna.co.kr
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