South Korea on Saturday deployed thousands of firefighters and issued the highest warning of the dangers of a major forest fire in the country’s eastern coastal region, just 11 kilometers from the Hanol nuclear power plant.
About 6,000 people were forced to flee their homes as the blaze, which began Friday, on a mountain in the coastal town of Uljin, 330 km southeast of the capital Seoul, spread to Samcheok, Gangwon Province, and beyond.
The Korea Forest Service and the National Fire Agency issued an emergency alert, and dispatched 30 helicopters, 230 fire engines and 1,100 firefighters to put out the fires.
Officials said firefighters were struggling to contain the blazes due to high winds, with speeds of more than 25 meters per second, and dry weather.
The fires destroyed at least 50 homes, and authorities said that about 3,300 hectares of forest, the equivalent of about 4,600 football fields, were under the influence of the fires. This is the largest forest area affected by massive fires in the last decade.
Damage from the fires is estimated at 20.9 billion won (US$17.2 million), and is likely to increase as the fires spread to Gangwon Province.
As the fires spread in the city of Samchuk, authorities were struggling to protect the country’s largest LNG production complex located in the city.
Firefighters said the fires reached the outer walls of the “Hanol” nuclear power plant, located only 11 kilometers from the source of the fires, but were brought under control in the late afternoon.
The plant’s operator, Korea Hydro and Nuclear Power Corporation said it has reduced the generation capacity of five operating reactors by 50 percent.
Korean President Moon Jae-in instructed officials to make efforts to quickly put out forest fires, prevent injuries and protect the nuclear power plant.
According to “Russia Today”, early voting for the presidential elections scheduled for March 9 at a polling station in the town of Elgin has been suspended due to a power outage following the outbreak of fires.