Tuesday, April 05, 2005

Fire on Nak Mountain

As of 11:00am this morning, Naksan Temple was safe but several small (or maybe not so small) forest fires were buring on Naksan and on several hills and forested areas inland. I would not be surprised if there were more than a thousand people fighting the fire, fire fighters, police, soldiers, rescue workers and volunteers. Highway 7, running from the DMZ, past Naksan and on to points south was fully open, although police were at all the relevant major intersections. The paved roads leading inland from Naksan were also all open.

I don't know how big the fire is (or hopefully 'was') but the high winds and dust devils were spreading it in a difficult way to control. There was a lot of ash floating in the air and as early as 8:00am, the smoke could be smelled in Sokcho, 12 km away.

Students staying in residence at Kwandong University were evacuated to a point two km further from the fire and are now at a wedding hall.

Below are some pictures with minimal text as they explain themselves pretty well. Below the pictures are my story.

waiting for instructions Posted by Hello
Above is the main gate to NakSan Temple and groups of forest fire fighters were milling about.

Naksan Bus Parking lot Posted by Hello

Hurry up and wait or a long night? Posted by Hello
The bus parking lot held at least 40 of these tanker trucks plus 15 or more fire trucks. Ocassionally, one would race out, siren wailing. The soldiers in this line of truck (10 or more behind this one) were all sleeping.

North side of the road: the wind carried hot ash, fire was crossing the field and road. Posted by Hello
These two pictures might be in the wrong order or story telling but they are in chronological order of my arriving on the scene. I think the main fire was on the South side of the road but that it had jumped to this side.

South side of the road. Fire fighters approaching from the field while a helicopter maneuvers above. Posted by Hello

Sokcho Airport, where the helicopters were being refueled. Posted by Hello

Water tanker helicopter. Posted by Hello

I awoke this morning and went into the kitchen where I smelled smoke. I merely wondered what the neighbours were cooking. Later, I went to meet a group to plant trees near Sokcho Beach. No-one was there and when I called, I was told the planting was cancelled due to the fire. When I heard Naksan was on fire, I was very concerned for the temple. Somewhat stupidly, I rode my bike there.

On the way I kicked myself for leaving my apartment windows open (I'm home now, typing this- the apartment may smell like smoke; after having been to Naksan, I probably can't smell smoke very well right now). I also wondered about the wisdom of riding into thicker smoke at a time when I was breathing so deeply.

The people at the local Yangyang Tourism office were at work so the area surrounding Naksan wasn't being evacuated. We watched trucks and helicopters come and go. I questioned some soldiers and bought drinks which I later gave to some fire fighters.

From Naksan, I went inland and saw many groups of fire fighters heading into and out of the woods. Helicopters were constantly in evidence but I didn't actually see any water being dumped. The wind was strong enough that I had to lean into it while riding.

Reaching a crossroads, I headed North, passing the old Sokcho airport, now being used to refuel the helicopters and headed home.

YTN showed footage of the fire and it was by no means small. Reports are that Kwandong students have returned to campus and that the fire either under control or soon will be.

The highway between Yangyang and Sokcho has apparently been closed.

The fire has reached Naksan Temple and Naksan Beach hotel. The situation is clearly bad but I don't know how bad as yet.

I see something about Ui-seung Dae and Ryeon Hong Am on YTN news but I can't read enough Korean to know if they are damaged or if they have escaped damage. Ui-seung Dae is a pavilion for watching the sunrise and is on a cliff right above the ocean. Ryeon Hong Am is also next to the ocean (it's a small, uh, attached temple, related to, but not administratively connected with Naksansa.) These two places are as far to the east as you can go without getting wet feet; I can't see how they could be damaged without the other buildings being affected first. However, as I said before, there are some crazy winds today. They are whistling through my apartment as I type and I can smell smoke on them again.

Highway 7, running past Naksansa, has been reopened.
Flying Yangban notes that 1,600 people have evacuated their homes.

9:00pm From the papers
Yangyang County issued a disaster warning as traffic
came to a standstill after authorities, in an effort to
block the path of the fire, closed nearby roads. Some
40 helicopters and 6,000 firefighters were mobilized
to put out the blaze.

Some 5,600 firefighters, police, military personnel
and government officials had difficulties bringing
the fire under control due to strong wind reaching
a maximum velocity of 26 meters per second.

The Korea Forest Service (KFS) dispatched 15
helicopters to battle the fire, pouring water to
contain the flames, beginning at 6 a.m. yesterday.
The dispatch of helicopters was delayed due to
the strong wind.

That's it for me. I may try to visit the temple tomorrow before work, but I'll put that in a separate post.

No comments: