Thousands flee as South Korea wildfire destroys homes

The fire tore through an east coast area and threatened a nuclear power station and a liquified natural gas plant

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Thousands of firefighters and troops battled a wildfire in South Korea on Saturday that destroyed at least 159 homes and 46 other buildings on the east coast and forced more than 6,200 people from their homes and businesses.

The fire, which began on Friday morning on a mountain in the seaside town of Uljin, temporarily threatened a nuclear power station and a liquefied natural gas plan as it spread across more than 6,000 hectares to the nearby city of Samcheok.

Images from Uljin and Samcheok showed palls of white and grey smoke rising from the mountains that cover the east coast and firefighters operating water hoses in thick smoke.

There were no reports of injuries or deaths. Officials were investigating the cause of the blaze, which grew rapidly in strong winds and dry conditions, South Korea’s Ministry of the Interior and Safety said.

As of Saturday afternoon, about 7,000 people, 65 helicopters and 513 vehicles were trying to contain the fire, which after reaching Samcheok moved southward back towards Uljin, driven by wind.

Officials hoped to contain the fire by sunset, Korea Forest Service Minister Choi Byeong-am told reporters in a briefing in Uljin.

Hundreds of firefighters worked overnight to stop the fire from spreading to an LNG plant in Samcheok, which is to the north of Uljin.

President Moon Jae-in issued an alarm on Friday afternoon as the fire reached the perimeter of a seaside nuclear power plant in Uljin, forcing the operator to reduce operations to 50 per cent and cut some electricity lines as preventive measures.

Hundreds of firefighters were sent to the plant and they kept the blaze under control before winds drove it northward towards Samcheok.

Of the thousands who fled their homes, nearly 700 were able to return as of Saturday, the forest service said.

The national railway operator suspended one of its train routes in the east coast region.

With reporting from agencies.

Updated: March 05, 2022, 11:55 AM