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Hundreds flee from wildfire in South Korean seaside city

People look at a fire as firefighters work to extinguish in Gangneung, South Korea, Tuesday, April 11, 2023.
AP
People look at a fire as firefighters work to extinguish in Gangneung, South Korea, Tuesday, April 11, 2023.

SEOUL, South Korea — Hundreds of South Koreans were forced to flee a wildfire fueled by strong winds that burned parts of an eastern coastal city Tuesday, destroying dozens of homes.

More than 2,700 firefighters and 300 vehicles were dispatched to fight the blaze that started on a mountain in a central part of Gangneung at around 8 a.m., officials said.

Around 70 homes and other buildings were destroyed and more than 520 residents evacuated to facilities that included an ice-skating arena and a middle school gym. There were no immediate reports of injuries or deaths.

The Korea Forest Service said firefighters put out about 88% of the fire as of 3:30 p.m. Gangwon provincial Gov. Kim Jin-tae said the fire appeared to be slowed by rain that began in the afternoon and that firefighters were aiming to bring the flames fully under control by sunset.

Their efforts were initially slowed by powerful winds that made it difficult to fly water-dropping aircraft, but officials managed to deploy helicopters in the afternoon.

The Korea Meteorological Administration said winds in the Gangneung area were still blowing at 103 kilometers (64 miles) per hour. The strong winds also forced railroad operators to cancel at least a dozen passenger trains between Gangneung and other eastern coastal cities like Donghae and Samcheok.

The fire covered more than 379 hectares (936 acres) and firefighters were establishing barriers while focusing on preventing the flames from spreading to more populated areas of Gangneung, according to the Korea Forest Service and the Gangwon provincial government.

Photos showed firefighters spraying water toward burning homes and buildings and large, orange flames engulfing a pine forest near a seaside resort hotel. The Korea Forest Services said that the fire was likely sparked by a tree that fell over a powerline after being snapped by strong winds.

South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol instructed officials to deploy "all available equipment and personnel" to swiftly extinguish the wildfire and evacuate residents to prevent the loss of life.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

The Associated Press