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(4th LD) Wildfire destroys 50 homes, prompts thousands to evacuate

All News 23:35 March 04, 2022

(ATTN: UPDATES with latest details in 12th para)

ULJIN, South Korea, March 4 (Yonhap) -- A fast-spreading wildfire in eastern coastal areas on Friday destroyed dozens of homes and forced thousands to evacuate as it threatened to become the nation's largest forest fire in a decade.

The blaze started on a road near a mountain in Uljin County, North Gyeongsang Province, about 330 kilometers southeast of Seoul, at 11:17 a.m. and spread to the vicinity of the mountain peak, according to the Korea Forest Service (KFS).

The fire spread north to the city of Samcheok, Gangwon Province, in the afternoon, driven by strong winds and dry weather.

A wildfire burns in the eastern city of Samcheok on March 4, 2022, in this photo provided by the city. (PHOTO NOT FOR SALE) (Yonhap)

The KFS and the National Fire Agency dispatched 30 helicopters, 230 fire trucks and 1,100 firefighters to extinguish the wildfire.

The firefighters were having difficulties containing the fire due to strong winds of over 25 mps, officials said.

The fire burned at least 50 homes and led to the evacuations of about 4,000 people in Uljin, and about 1,000 people in Samcheok. No casualties were reported.

Authorities said about 3,300 hectares of woodland, equivalent to about 4,600 soccer stadiums, is under the influence of the fire. It is the largest forest area to be affected by a single wildfire in the past decade.

Damages are estimated at approximately 20.9 billion won (US$17.2 million) but are likely to increase, as the fire is spreading to the Gangwon area.

As the fire spread to Samcheok, the authorities were struggling to protect the nation's largest liquefied natural gas (LNG) production complex located in the city.

Homes burn in a wildfire in the eastern coastal county of Uljin on March 4, 2022. (Yonhap)

The fire once threatened Hanul Nuclear Power Plant in Uljin. The fire reached the outer fences of the plant's complex, only 11 kilometers away from the fire's origin, but was put under control in late afternoon, firefighters said.

The Korea Hydro & Nuclear Power Co., the plant's operator, had lowered the generation capacity of five reactors in operation by 50 percent.

The government declared a state of disaster for the inferno, a designation that allows for various special measures, such as the emergency mobilization of human resources and equipment, residents' evacuation and access control. The declaration had come into effect as of 10 p.m.

Earlier in the day, President Moon Jae-in instructed officials to make efforts to swiftly put out the wildfire, prevent casualties and protect the nuclear plant.

Early voting for next week's presidential election was suspended at one of the polling stations in Uljin due to a power outage caused by the fire.

Firefighters battle a wildfire in the eastern coastal county of Uljin on March 4, 2022. (Yonhap)



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