A major fire breakout at the Guryong Village in Seoul led to a mass evacuation on Friday, January 20. The blaze broke out around 6:27 am in the fourth zone of the village, according to reports.
The village is one of the last remaining shantytowns of Seoul. Currently, there are a total of 666 households in the area. Most of the buildings are makeshift structures with vinyl plywood panels, making the entire town highly fire-prone.
A 72-yer-old resident told Reuters that when he discovered the fire, he banged on doors warning people to escape.
Right after I opened the door, I saw a pillar of fire rising from one side…It looked really serious and I felt I shouldn’t escape alone. So, I banged on the doors and shouted ‘Fire!’ And people came out and screamed. It was chaotic.
— Guryong Village resident
According to reports, the fire engulfed around 2,700 square meters of the slum, destroying roughly 60 homes. Around 900 firemen, police personnel, and government officials were dispatched to handle the blaze and help with evacuation. It took more than five hours to fully extinguish the fire. Shin Yong Ho, a fire official at Gangnam Fire Station, told the media that there were no deaths or injuries reported.
The Guryong Village is located right on the edge of Gangnam District, one of the most expensive real-estate areas in Seoul. But the contrast between the two areas could not be any wider. Guryong is inhabited mostly by people who were evacuated from their homes for redevelopment projects during the military government rule in the 1980s.
The poor residents built makeshift houses illegally at the foot of Mount Guryong to survive. But the lack of infrastructure has made the area prone to electrical malfunctions, fire, and flood. Though in 2011 the city government planned to develop the area, all efforts have been futile due to conflicts between the local government and the residents. According to reports, Guryong Village has suffered at least 16 fires since 2009.