[From the Scene] Residents return to scene of devastation


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A tiny village in Yongchon-ri, about 5 kilometers from where the fire first started, sat in a state of near annihilation, save for two houses and the community center. Ashes and shattered glass covered the ground and smoke hung in the air, stinging the eyes and nose.

Nam Jung-ae, 65, said she lost the home where she grew up to the fire. “That over there is my parents’ place,” she gestured towards a shapeless burnt down structure behind the fire truck. She and her family had evacuated the night before, like many of her neighbors, and came back Friday morning, to see how the town had stood against the fire.

She said there are only two houses that remain inhabitable — hers, fortunately, included. 

A mountainside village in Toseong-myeon, about 5.6 km away from where Korea‘s worst wildfire started in Goseong, Gangwon Province, lies in ruins around 16 hours after the town was evacuated. (Kim Arin/The Korea Herald)
A mountainside village in Toseong-myeon, about 5.6 km away from where Korea‘s worst wildfire started in Goseong, Gangwon Province, lies in ruins around 16 hours after the town was evacuated. (Kim Arin/The Korea Herald)
A mountainside village in Toseong-myeon, about 5.6 km away from where Korea‘s worst wildfire started in Goseong, Gangwon Province, lies in ruins around 16 hours after the town was evacuated. (Kim Arin/The Korea Herald)
A mountainside village in Toseong-myeon, about 5.6 km away from where Korea‘s worst wildfire started in Goseong, Gangwon Province, lies in ruins around 16 hours after the town was evacuated. (Kim Arin/The Korea Herald)
A mountainside village in Toseong-myeon, about 5.6 km away from where Korea‘s worst wildfire started in Goseong, Gangwon Province, lies in ruins around 16 hours after the town was evacuated. (Kim Arin/The Korea Herald)

“Many of us have lived here our whole lives, the old folks,” she said. “I don’t know when they will begin restoration work, but we have to come back and live here.”

The residents of another surviving house were a couple in their 40s, a relatively young age in a town inhabited mostly by elderly. The couple had sent their children away to a relative in a southern province. After evacuating to the Gajin harbor on the east coast the night before, the couple said they returned at around 8 a.m.

The couple said they fled before receiving any official alerts via text message. “The fire was approaching fast.”

A two-storey house close to the couple’s home was burned to ruins. “We haven’t been able to speak to our neighbors since (we left),” said the couple, who said they did not know their neigbors’ whereabouts.

Two officers from Toseong-myeon’s county office stopped by to check the extent of the damage.

“We haven’t been able to sleep since (the fire broke out),” the officer said. “We’ve been registering complaints (from citizens).”

Others who returned had lost their homes. Inside the town’s community center sat a small group of townspeople who had returned from a sleepless night spent elsewhere, away from the fire, reluctant to give an account of what had happened.

“You can find plenty of people to ask about that elsewhere,” said one resident.

Kim Kee-su, a firefighter from South Jeolla province who was dispatched to Gangwon Province, said that residents are advised to stay away for a couple of days as “you can never be sure if the embers are completely extinguished — especially at night when the winds are strong.”

When asked how much longer the firefighting efforts would continue in the town, Kim said he wasn‘t able to confirm anything due to the possibility of re-ignition.

By Kim Arin (arin@heraldcorp.com)


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