Wed, Feb 11, 2009 - Page 5 News List

Four killed, 70 injured at South Korea fire festival

ORGANIZERS QUESTIONED Four people plummeted to their deaths as spectators fled from a traditional festival fire that had been whipped into a blaze by sudden winds

AP AND AFP , SEOUL

Spectators run from a burning grass field at a celebration of the first full moon of the lunar year on Hwawang mountain in Changnyeong, South Korea, on Monday.

PHOTO: AP

Four people were killed and about 70 others injured after a fire set as part of a traditional South Korean festival spread out of control, police said yesterday.

The accident happened when organizers set fire to reed-like plants at the top of Hwawang mountain in southeastern South Korea on Monday night as part of the full moon festival, said Park Joong-soo, an officer at Gyeongnam Provincial Police Agency.

The blaze, fanned by sudden winds, spread over firebreaks, forcing spectators to flee. Four of them, who were on top of a large rock to get a better view of the festival, fell about 10m to their deaths while trying to dodge the fire, Park said.

He said the fire left about 70 others injured, with four or five suffering serious burns.

Police combed the mountain yesterday in a search for additional casualties.

It is a South Korean tradition to set fire to grass along rice fields on the night of the first full moon of the Lunar New Year in the belief that it helps bring good harvests and drives out evil spirits, though it is no longer widely practiced.

Yonhap news agency said police questioned two festival organizers at the county government in Changnyeong, about 260km southeast of Seoul, over whether they had taken sufficient safety measures for the event.

Yonhap said organizers did not ensure enough distance between the festival flames and spectators at some points, and that there were only 400 safety officials overseeing the event attended by 15,000 people.

Meanwhile, the man chosen to head South Korea’s national police withdrew his nomination yesterday, taking responsibility for a blaze that erupted during a violent Seoul protest and killed six people.

“I’m resigning ... to assume moral responsibility,” Kim Seok-ki told reporters, a day after prosecutors charged 27 people but cleared police of any blame for the tragedy.

Kim said he is also quitting his current post of Seoul police chief.

He said he decided to step down because a political dispute over his nomination to the national post should not escalate when South Korea faces “an unprecedented economic crisis.”

The fire, which killed a policeman and five demonstrators, erupted on Jan. 20, two days after Kim’s nomination.

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