Wildfire in North Gyeongsang put out after 51 hours
A wildfire that blazed for almost 51 hours in North Gyeongsang was finally brought under control on Thursday afternoon, firefighters and forest management officials said.
The fire, which started at 4 a.m. Tuesday on a mountain in Yeongdeok County, about 350 kilometers (217 miles) southeast of Seoul, was initially thought to be extinguished but reignited overnight Wednesday at around 2:18 a.m. and spread to nearby residential areas, according to the Korea Forest Service (KFS).
Choi Byeong-am, head of the KFS, said the main blaze was contained at 2:30 p.m. Thursday, with firefighters still extinguishing smaller flames.
“Although the main blaze was extinguished, the wildfire recurred 15 hours after it was first believed to be extinguished at 10:55 a.m. on Tuesday,” Choi said. “There have been recent cases of insufficient monitoring after the flame was brought under control, so we hope this one will continue to be watched.”
The effort to contain the blaze, which was fueled by strong winter winds and dry conditions, involved 40 firefighting helicopters and 1,704 personnel, the greatest number enlisted in almost a decade to put out a wildfire.
The National Fire Agency issued a stage 3 alert, the highest and most serious level, at 12:45 p.m. on Wednesday as winds reached speeds of 15 miles per hour. Pursuant to the alert, a total of 45 firefighting engines and 20 water tanks were dispatched from the cities of Daegu, Ulsan and Daejeon, as well as Gangwon, South Gyeongsang, Gyeonggi and North and South Chungcheong provinces.
Fire lines were set up around the blaze to keep it from spreading further during the night, and firefighting helicopters and firefighters resumed operations as soon as the sun rose on Thursday.
According to the agency, the fire is estimated to have destroyed more than 400 hectares (988 acres) of land and forced the evacuation of some 1,000 residents from nearby villages.
While authorities are still working to identify the cause of the wildfire, suspicion has landed on a charred piece of solar reflective film in the area where the fire is believed to have originated.
Such materials are used to ensure that fruits and vegetables growing in enclosed areas receive an even amount of sunlight, but firefighting officials investigating the area believe a stray piece of the reflective film got caught in an electricity pole and ignited, setting off the wildfire.
North Gyeongsang Gov. Lee Cheol-woo, who is coordinating the firefighting effort, lauded firefighters for preventing greater damage, with no casualties, even in difficult conditions.
“Even as dry weather and strong winds persist, we will thoroughly clean up and monitor the fire,” the governor vowed.
BY MICHAEL LEE [email@example.com]