About 500 evacuated as fire rips through Seoul settlement

Dozens of homes were destroyed in the early morning blaze on the edge of the city’s wealthy Gangnam district.

A firefighter walking through a narrow alley between makeshift houses in Guryong on the edge of Seoul's swanky Gangnam district
About 800 firefighters, police and soldiers were deployed to put out the fire [Kim Hong-Ji/Reuters]

A fire has destroyed dozens of homes in a densely populated district of makeshift homes on the edge of Seoul’s wealthy Gangnam neighbourhood, forcing hundreds of residents to flee.

The fire broke out in Guryong village in southern Seoul on Friday at about 6.27am (21:27 GMT on Thursday), destroying at least 60 houses, according to authorities. About 800 firefighters, police officers and soldiers, as well as 10 helicopters, were deployed to extinguish the fire, which took about five hours.

Shin Yong-ho, an official at the fire department of Seoul’s Gangnam district, said rescue workers were continuing to search areas affected by the fire but that it was believed that all residents had been evacuated safely. No casualties were reported.

Guryong, with its buildings made of wood, cardboard and tarpaulin, is a symbol of inequality in Asia’s fourth-largest economy and is surrounded by the glitzy skyscrapers of the affluent Gangnam.

A view of Guryong after the fire was extinguished. Smoke is rising the ash and there are skyscrapers behind
Guryong lies on the edge of the swanky Gangnam district and was formed after the then-military government sought to beautify the city in the run-up to the 1988 Olympics [Ahn Young-joon/AP Photo]

Kim Ah-reum, an official at the Gangnam district office, said about 500 residents were evacuated to nearby facilities including a school gym. Officials plan to move an unspecified number of people whose homes were destroyed or severely damaged to three hotels.

“How could this happen on the Lunar New Year holidays?” 66-year-old village resident Kim Sung-han asked, talking to The Associated Press news agency, referring to this weekend’s holiday, one of the country’s biggest.

“I had to run out of home only in these clothes”, without being able to bring out anything else, Kim said. “I couldn’t go to work … when it’s already so hard to live.”

Shin said it was presumed that the fire began at one of the village’s homes and the cause was being investigated.

Guryong, which covers an area of about 2,700 square metres (29,000 square feet), has long been prone to fires, floods and other disasters. Eleven houses were destroyed during a fire at the village in March last year, and about 100 people were forced to evacuate after flooding last August.

The government announced plans for redevelopment in 2011, but the efforts have made little progress because of differences over land compensation issues and residents’ eligibility for government support for relocation.

The settlement was formed in the 1980s for people who had been evicted from their original neighbourhoods as the city cleared slums and low-income districts for redevelopment, a process the country’s then-military leaders saw as crucial in beautifying the city in the run-up to the 1988 Olympic Games.

Source: News Agencies