An abrupt fire raged through the village of Guryong, the last remaining slum in Seoul, consuming over 60 houses with no reported casualties so far.
The slum village, enshrouded with the capital’s most affluent and wealthy apartments and complexes, is now in a dire state beyond repair. The fire set this shanty town ablaze in South Korea’s capital on Friday at 6:27 am, causing over 500 residents to flee for their lives.
Guryong Town was already classified as a fire-prone area because of its poor infrastructure; moreover, with its construction materials being wood and cardboard, its vulnerability to such fire eruptions was frequent in this 13-year span since the first blaze flared up in 2009. During a fire outbreak like this last year in March, about 11 households were destroyed, and following the event, over 100 people were relocated after parts of the area got inundated by floods in August.
“If a fire breaks out in this neighborhood, the entire village could be in danger if we don’t respond quickly. So, we’ve been responding together for decades,” said Kim, who has been a permanent resident for 30 years.
Guryong Consumed by Fire
Home to more than 600 households in Gangnam district, the ruin of Guryong has marked the utter desolation of an impecunious and deprived community.
The entire area was evacuated and assisted in the move by approximately 800 firefighters, police officers, and civil officials—with additional reinforcements supplied by 10 helicopters to put out the fires—a process that took 5 hours to complete.
“How could this happen on the Lunar New Year holidays?” a 66-year-old village resident, Kim Sung-han, told The Associated Press, denoting the annual holidays that start on the weekend and continue to Tuesday.
“I had to leave the house wearing only these clothes because I couldn’t bring anything else,” Kim explained. “I couldn’t go to work… when it’s already so hard to live,” he added despondently.
The armored fighting vehicles hovered around the smoldering remains of the slum area, extinguishing the fire with Bambi buckets, providing some relief to the residents. The rescue operation was conducted promptly without any delay, which is also the reason why there are no casualties recorded yet. The incinerated village is undergoing further search operations to verify any unpredicted mortality.
“I saw a flash from the kitchen and opened the door, and flames were shooting from the houses next door,” said a 72-year-old lady, Shin, after her traumatic encounter with the event.
“So, I knocked on every door nearby and shouted “fire!” and then called 119,” she exclaimed, giving only her surname on record.
The South Korean president, Yoon Suk Yeol, urged the forces for immediate rescue operations and encampment facilities to be arranged at the disposal of the villagers. He was attending the World Economic Forum in Davos during the incident.
This impoverished settlement is located on a hillside, overlooked by a vast and affluent metropolitan real estate market, which ironically, has not contributed to the destitute condition of this illegal—now terror-stricken—village. This slum area was formed back in the 1980s by people evicted from their own households in view of the redevelopment and beautification of a vibrant Seoul—enough to attract the keen eyes of tourists but at the cost of poverty-stricken citizens. They were then cornered into such rudimentary, low-income settlements to live on.
When a fire broke out in 2014, several discussions and proposals for the redevelopment of the area were under consideration, but none of them saw the light of day because of the discrepancy in opinions over land compensations between local government bodies and residents.