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Border closed after fire in North Korea spreads to South

The cause of the fire is not known but began inside a North Korean military camp located on farmland. Foul play is not suspected.

By
Elizabeth Shim
A fast-traveling fire that began in North Korea could be seen from an observatory near the Korean Demilitarized Zone near Paju, South Korea. The fire was contained after helicopters and hundreds of emergency personnel were deployed from South Korea.
 Photo by YTN/Yonhap
A fast-traveling fire that began in North Korea could be seen from an observatory near the Korean Demilitarized Zone near Paju, South Korea. The fire was contained after helicopters and hundreds of emergency personnel were deployed from South Korea. Photo by YTN/Yonhap

PAJU, South Korea, March 23 (UPI) -- A forest fire that began Monday in North Korea rolled into South Korea, crossing the Korean Demilitarized Zone and mobilizing hundreds of South Korean emergency personnel into the border between North and South Korea.

Yonhap reported there were no casualties, and damage to South Korean military facilities were minor – but the fire managed to destroy about 0.4 square mile of land inside the DMZ and South Korea.

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The DMZ, or Korean Demilitarized Zone, is a belt of land that serves as a buffer between North and South Korea, roughly 2.5 miles wide. The South Korean military stated anti-personnel land mines buried in the DMZ were presenting a challenge to firefighting helicopters.

The fire was first spotted at 11:30 a.m. Korea time by a South Korean sentry. It began about 660 yards from the DMZ's midpoint, near a North Korean military camp located on farmland. It wasn't clear whether the farmland was inside the DMZ or outside it, Yonhap reported.

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The cause of the fire is unknown, but foul play is not suspected. North Korea also deployed military firefighters inside the DMZ, according to Yonhap.

After receiving permission from the U.N. Military Armistice Commission, aerial firefighters filled its tankers at the Imjin River then dropped the water into the DMZ, targeting the fast-traveling fire.

South Korean television network MBC reported the fire managed to travel at 6.5 yards per second and crossed the Military Demarcation Line, or the midpoint of the DMZ in less than an hour and a half after it began.

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In a pre-emptive move, the Inter-Korean Transit Office blocked all traffic coming to and from Kaesong, North Korea. Some 138 South Koreans in South Korea and 55 South Koreans in the North were on standby for the ban to end on Monday evening.

The Kaesong Industrial Zone is a joint factory complex presided over by North and South Korea where South Korean corporations employ North Korean workers.

South Korean residents living near the South Korean border town of Paju said the smoke from the forest fire was so thick and heavy they donned masks to facilitate breathing.

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The Korean peninsula has experienced a dry spell that has been the cause of 30 different fires on Sunday and 13 small fires on Monday, reported MBC.

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