The Government Must Deal More Effectively With Forest FiresThe recent spate of forest fires that tore through Kangwon province came under control after a week of uncertainty. It was the most destructive fire in Korean history. More than 1000 people were left homeless and 30 million pyong (9.1 million square meters) of forest was reduced to ashes.
The government plans on declaring the severely damaged sites as special disaster areas. Aid from the government must come rapidly and without argument, and the support of neighbors and the nation's citizens is imperative.
Investigations into the causes of the fires are extremely important. Seven of the 11 fires are still being investigated, 4 cases appear extremely irregular. In fact, arson is suspected in some of the cases.
In order to avoid similar problems in the future, the response by the government and local authorities must be closely examined.
The recent disaster, coupled with the Kosung fire in 1996, has forced the government to look at new ways to prevent forest fires. In the past, the government had appointed forest fire monitors and placed fire-fighting helicopters in each of the provinces. However, the recent forest fire in Kangwon proved that the government's countermeasures were insufficient. The recent forest fire started in a steep mountain region that, coupled with strong winds, kept fire-fighting helicopters from approaching the sites.
The number of visitors to Korea's mountains will inevitably be limited, especially when the weather is extremely dry. Those traveling to the mountains will likely be checked for flammable materials.
The number of monitors in vulnerable areas is inadequate. One option is to increase the number of public servants currently working as substitutes of the military services.
The government must also come up with an early warning system for forest fires and also increase the number of fire-fighting vehicles. The remote monitor systems utilized in the United States is a good example of an effective system.
The Korean people and the government must change their perception of forest fires. Instead of accepting the fires as annual events, a pro-active stance must be taken. If we do not prepare for potential future disasters, the damage to the environment and the economy will be crushing.
by Lee Duk-nyung