Forest fire spreading for sixth day in eastern Japan

26 February 2021

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JAPAN – A forest fire continued to spread for the sixth day on Friday in Ashikaga, Tochigi Prefecture, eastern Japan.

Self-Defense Forces personnel and firefighters have worked tirelessly to extinguish the fire, but the blaze will likely not be put out anytime soon, considering the continuing dry weather.

As the fire spread further, the city issued an evacuation advisory for 98 more households on Friday, bringing the total number of households advised to evacuate to 305.

According to the Tochigi prefectural and Ashikaga city governments, the fire started around 3:30 p.m. Sunday near the top of Mount Ryogai some 3 kilometers northwest of Ashikaga Station, run by East Japan Railway Co., or JR East.

The Ashikaga government believes that the fire originated at a rest stop for hikers, estimating that about 100 hectares of land had been burned as of 2 p.m. Thursday.

On Thursday night, the fire temporarily reached as close as 150 meters to houses, the municipal government said.

Some areas had water outages as firefighting continued. No one has been hurt, and no houses have been damaged.

On Friday morning, SDF and prefectural government helicopters resumed spraying water on the fire.

Setting up lines of defense, firefighters also battled the flames from the ground, putting priority on preventing the fire from spreading to homes or other buildings.

Some schools closed temporarily.

At a news conference, Ashikaga Mayor Satoshi Izumi said, “Even if the fire is contained, the inside of the trees may burn once again.”

He indicated that it may take around two weeks for the fire to be extinguished.

Hideo Kobayashi, 73, who was advised to evacuate on Thursday, said he saw the fire spreading in front of his eyes due to the strong wind.

It was “as if I’d sprinkled gasoline,” he said. “I was scared.”

The neighboring city of Kiryu, Gunma Prefecture, also had a forest fire. A 79-year-old resident suffered burns and was sent to the hospital.

According to local police, the resident said he was burning cedar leaves when underbrush caught fire.

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