South Korea — Forest fires broke out shortly after midnight this morning in mountainous regions in Yangyang in the province of Gangwon and were rapidly spreading,according to major local TVnetworks.
Ancient temple of Naksansa is heavily damaged by the forest fire
A raging forest fire fanned by dry and strong winds destroyed a thousand-year-old Buddhist temple in Yangyang, Gangwon Province, on Tuesday afternoon, after forcing thousands of residents to evacuate overnight, Yonhap News said.
Naksan Temple, one of the most renowned temples in South Korea with 1,300 years of history, was widely damaged, they said. Out of its 20 ritual halls, eighteen were completely destroyed, including the Hall of the Great Veneration where the image of Buddha is enshrined.
The temple preserves about 30,000 national treasures. Its monks said they had evacuated three representative treasures including a Buddhist image considered the oldest in Asia into the temple’s basement before the fire spread. But the scope of the damage could not be immediately determined.
No victims have been reported. Prime Minister Lee Hae-chan issued an emergency directive to mobilize all equipment to contain the fire, his office said. It said Lee will hold an emergency meeting this evening with ministers of defense, administration and health as well as heads of fire authorities and the policeagency.
The fire erupted Monday night and spread rapidly, forcing 700 residents to evacuate their mountainous villages in the middle of the night. The authorities mobilized fire trucks and police officers to try to contain the blaze, a feat made more problematic by the dry conditions and strong winds.
Southwesterly winds are forecast to continue until Wednesday morning, according to the Korea Meteorological Administration.
Residents threatened by the fire in the mountainous region in South Korea’s northeast were evacuated from their homes in the middle of the night.
“The forest fire stuck my house so suddenly that I had no time to do anything about it except save myself,” Jeong Yeon-hak, 71, said at an emergency shelter.
Tourists visiting the eastern coastal region for Arbor Day on April 5 were also forced to evacuate their condominiums, the police said.
The blaze is the largest fire in Yangyang county since May 1980.
Ancient temple of Naksansa on fire
Forest fires frequently break out in other counties in Gangwon Province, which is covered in mountains and visited by dry spells in early spring.