The fate of the 20 million trees burned in wildfire

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The fate of the 20 million trees burned in wildfire

The author is the head of the national team at the JoongAng Ilbo.

At 11:15 a.m. on March 4, white smoke appeared near the road, and the flame instantly spread to the mountain in Buk-myeon, Uljin County, North Gyeongsang. Forestry authorities presume that the fire was started by a cigarette thrown out of a car. It was recorded in the surveillance camera that the first fire started shortly after four cars passed the spot.

The National Forensic Service assisted in the investigation, but not much evidence was found. Because the blaze was intense, dried leaves in the ditch burned off. The Uljin County interviewed the drivers of the four vehicles, but the cause was not found. The drivers denied any mistakes on their part, including throwing a cigarette butt.

While the case remained unsolved, the forest fire spread uncontrollably. The blaze that started in Uljin spread as far as Samcheok, Gangwon and turned the forests in the east coast into ashes. The fire continued through the March 9 presidential election and subsided on March 13 after nine days. It was the longest fire in history, burning for 213 hours, 22 hours longer than the East Coast forest fire in 2000.

The fire resulted in tremendous damage. 20,923 hectares of forests, including 18,463 hectares in Uljin and 2,469 hectares in Samcheok, were lost in the fire.

Once the fire was controlled, fortunate news was learned. Dr. Kang Won-seok’s team at the National Institute of Forest Science published a study on the withering of damaged pine trees in the area. Not all trees that suffered forest fire damage need to be cut off, the team found.

The study focuses on the possibility that trees that suffered fire damage can be revived depending on the diameter and scorched level. Dr. Kang said that a pine tree with a diameter of 44 centimeters has more than 90 percent survival rate if it is scorched up to 2 meters. The Korea Forest Service is compiling a guidebook for distribution in the field. It sets a guideline that “trees that are scorched up to certain level should not be cut.”

After the fire, residents are urging swift damage restoration as they lost their homes and livestock. They also demand countermeasures to prevent forest fires be repeated every year.

Authorities need to listen to public voices demanding an investigation on the cause of the fire that resulted in historic damage. However, the cause of the fire that made residents shiver in fear for nine days is yet to be found.
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