Fire breaks out at apartment building in Hyesan

The first possessions locals rushed to protect were portraits of Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il

A fire recently broke out in an apartment complex in Hyesan, Ryanggang Province, and raged for several hours before burning itself out, Daily NK has learned. 

“The fire broke out in an apartment in the city on June 12 at 7 PM,” a source in the province told Daily NK on June 18. According to the source, the top floors of the building were left to burn because firefighters never arrived on the scene. 

“With no way of extinguishing a fire on the top floor of the building, residents just stood around and watched,” the source said. 

“The fire eventually burned itself out when there were no flammable objects left to fuel it. People didn’t even expect the fire brigade to show up,” he added.

North Korean cities rarely have effective fire fighting systems in place and many fires are simply left to burn themselves out. The lack of effective fire departments means that North Koreans have little recourse to protect their homes from fires. 


The source did note, however, that fire fighting authorities in Hyesan rushed to formulate fire prevention policies in the wake of this incident.

A photo of the fire on the top floor of an apartment building in Hyesan, Ryanggang Province, on June 12. / Image: Daily NK

The authorities reportedly identified the cause of the fire and are inspecting the structure’s electrical system.

”The cause of the fire was coated wiring that wasn’t installed properly on the inside of the apartment’s roof,” the source said. “Normally, when [the wires] overheat, the fuse blows out and the power shuts off, but that didn’t happen this time.” 

According to the source, the authorities will conduct an investigation to look for any issues with the electricity system in other buildings in the area.

“Officials from the electricity department and local people’s committee will conduct a 10-day long inspection of local apartments and other residential buildings,” he told Daily NK. 


Local officials are implementing other fire fighting measures as well, according to the source.

“After the fire, local organizations – including the managers of apartments and public buildings – decided that buildings should be equipped with set amounts of bags full of dry sand depending on how large the structures are,” the source said. “The buildings are expected to equip themselves with the bags of dry sand within 10 days and report back to the local authorities.” 

North Korea has a significant lack of domestically-produced firefighting equipment, which has led to the widespread use of dry sand as a way to smother fires. 

The source also noted that as soon as the fire broke out, the first possessions residents rushed to protect were portraits of Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il hanging in their homes. 

“They grabbed the portraits and evacuated the building,” the source said, adding, “They were so intent on making sure the portraits were safe that they didn’t have time to attend to furniture or other household items.”

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Mun Dong Hui is one of Daily NK's full-time journalists. Please direct any questions about his articles to