Hundreds flee from wildfire in South Korean seaside city

SEOUL, South Korea (AP) – Hundreds of South Koreans were forced to flee a wildfire fueled by strong winds that burned parts of an eastern coastal city Tuesday, destroying dozens of homes.

More than 2,300 firefighters and 300 vehicles were dispatched to fight the blaze that started on a mountain in a central part of Gangneung, officials said.

Around 70 homes and other buildings were destroyed and more than 400 residents evacuated to facilities that included an ice-skating arena and a middle school gym. There were no immediate reports of injuries or deaths.

The Korea Forest Service said firefighters put out about 65% of the fire as of 2:10 p.m. It wasn’t immediately clear how long it would take them to bring the flames fully under control as the high winds made it difficult to deploy water-dropping aircraft.

The Korea Meteorological Administration said winds in the Gangneung area were blowing as hard as 103 kilometers (64 miles) per hour as of Tuesday afternoon. The strong winds also forced railroad operators to cancel at least a dozen passenger trains between Gangneung and other eastern coastal cities like Donghae and Samcheok.

The fire covered more than 370 hectares (914 acres) and firefighters were establishing barriers while focusing on preventing the flames from spreading to more populated areas of Gangneung, according to the Korea Forest Service and the Gangwon provincial government.

Photos showed firefighters spraying water toward burning homes and buildings and large, orange flames engulfing a pine forest near a seaside resort hotel.

South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol instructed officials to deploy “all available equipment and personnel” to swiftly extinguish the wildfire and evacuate residents to prevent the loss of life.

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