In this Thursday, April 4, 2019, photo, a house burns in Goseong, South Korea. The fire likely started Thursday night from a transformer spark near a resort in the town of Goseong in Gangwon province about 210 kilometers (130 miles) northeast of Seoul and then spread to the nearby mountains, according to Choi Jin-ho, a fire captain at Gangwon Fire Headquarters. (Lee Jong-geun/Yonhap via AP)
SEOUL, April 5: Firefighters by Friday morning had extinguished large parts of a forest fire burning in the mountainous South Korean region that hosted the 2018 Winter Olympics. It has destroyed 120 homes, forced thousands to flee, and killed one person, with another dying because of a falling object in the high winds fanning the flames.
The fire likely started Thursday night from a transformer spark near a resort in the town of Goseong and then spread to the nearby mountains, according to Choi Jin-ho, a fire captain at Gangwon Fire Headquarters. Gangwon province governs the Olympic host city of Pyeongchang and is about 210 kilometers (130 miles) northeast of Seoul.
Videos posted to social media in South Korea showed tall flames rising from large areas of forest, the air filled with embers and debris as cars drove by the raging fire. News photos showed a burnt-out bus, fire engulfing a hill, and residents evacuating apartment complexes and filing into gyms.
Choi said nearly 2,400 people in Goseong and almost 1,250 in the city of Sokcho were evacuated.
Authorities said a 60-year-old man died because of the fire, and a woman in her 70s died after being hit by wide-angle mirror on a road that fell because of strong winds.
The region is close to the border with North Korea. South Korea’s Unification Ministry said Friday it plans to inform North Korea of details about the forest fires.
The Ministry of the Interior and Safety said about 120 homes were burned. The Korea Forestry Service said about 250 hectares (1 square mile) of forest was estimated to have burned in Goseong alone.
About 20 firefighting helicopters and 5,600 firefighting personnel were expected to be deployed Friday, the ministry said. The fire also spread toward Ganeung and Donghae, causing the temporary shutdown of a highway and delays in train services from Ganeung to Seoul.
Another Gangwon fire official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of office rules, said at least 11 people were being treated for injuries. The official wouldn’t comment on the nature of the injuries or how many were serious.
The office of South Korean President Moon Jae-in said he held an emergency meeting early Friday and called for all available resources to be deployed.
Choi said nearly 800 firefighters fought the fire overnight but had trouble because of the wind and darkness, which prevented the use of helicopters.
Fire brigades from all major surrounding regions, including Seoul, were reportedly ordered to send trucks to help fight the blaze.
The fire hasn’t threatened any venues where Olympic athletes competed last year, including the main venues in Pyeongchang, the alpine center in Jeongseon, and the skating centers in seaside Gangneung.