Seoul: A giant forest fire swept across swathes of South Korea on Friday, as authorities declared a rare national disaster, deploying 900 fire engines and tens of thousands of personnel to bring it under control. Apocalyptic images on television and social media showed walls of flame lighting up the night, buildings engulfed in flames, and clouds of smoke billowing across hillsides during the day. The blaze broke out late on Thursday alongside a road in the town of Goseong, in the far northeast of the country and only around 45 kms from the border with the nuclear-armed North.

Fanned by strong winds it quickly spread through the mountainous area, incinerating 400 homes and 500 hectares of land, according to the government. Nearly 4,000 people were evacuated and one person died, authorities said, while 11 were hurt. Over 870 fire engines and 10,000 emergency personnel were dispatched to fight the blaze, the National Fire Agency said.

The military sent 32 helicopters, along with fire engines of its own and 16,500 soldiers, to help. “Fortunately, the main fire has been brought under control,” provincial governor Choi Moon-soon said in a radio interview with YTN, but added others were still burning. The central government declared a state of national disaster, entitling affected areas to special assistance including goods and equipment, and banning entry to dangerous zones.

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