A forest fire that broke out near North Korea’s missile base in Dongchang Village, Cholsan County, North Pyongan Province, on Nov. 10 incinerated a hillside and forced local villagers to evacuate, a military source in the country told Daily NK yesterday. 

“Trees planted eight years ago as well as ones planted last year were reduced to ashes in the blink of an eye,” said the source, who spoke on condition of anonymity. “Even cadres from the forestry policy oversight bureau were dispatched from Pyongyang to determine the cause of the blaze.” 

North Korea recently made the prevention of forest fires a major national focus. In fact, Rodong Sinmun reported on Nov. 11 that “the work for forest conservation and prevention of forest fire has turned into the all-people patriotic one [sic].”

In particular, during a State Affairs Commission meeting in April, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un created a new bureau to manage forestry policy, displaying a willingness to set forestation policy himself.

“Naturally, with all the trees on the mountain burning in the fire, people have been put on emergency alert,” said the source. “The relevant cadres have had to run around desperately to escape responsibility for botching a major national effort [to prevent forest fires].” 

The source pointed out that Cholsan County is home to North Korea’s No. 2 Missile Launch Site and testing facility, along with major air force bases, so local party, government and military organizations fully mobilized themselves to put out the blaze.

“Units of the Eighth Corps in North Pyongan Province and officials from the provincial Ministry of State Security and Ministry of Social Security went into a state of emergency,” said the source. “Soldiers from nearby bases and helicopters from Cholsan Air Force Base were mobilized and put out the blaze within three hours.”

Trucks on bridge
A North Korean truck crossing over a bridge in North Pyongan Province. / Image: Daily NK

Local residents were also mass-mobilized to beat back the fire. “A vehicle with a loudspeaker began broadcasting in Cholsan on the night of Nov. 10, and then the authorities began encouraging all residents in the county to take active part in putting out the fire on local TV,” the source said. 

Some are speculating that those responsible for the fire will pay with their lives “regardless of whether the blaze was intentional or a mistake,” and that the failure to properly manage a forest fire so close to an important national facility “would also become a big issue.”

Meanwhile, authorities have yet to complete their investigation into the fire, and no one has been punished yet. 

Many believe that the fire was the responsibility of more than just a handful of people, and that it is likely the culprits will be quietly dealt with in secret rather than publicly, the source said. 

Rumors about the fire are already spreading, however. Given that so many people know the fire occurred, it is next to impossible for the authorities to halt the spread of gossip, the source pointed out. 

“Since the rocket [missile] base wasn’t damaged, the leadership could conclude the matter by punishing the main culprit[s] and a high-ranking cadre,” the source said. “But it’s also fully possible that stern punishment will be handed down [to other people as well] since a facility the state regards as important could have been destroyed due to a single mistake.”

Please direct any comments or questions about this article to dailynkenglish@uni-media.net.

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Jeong Tae Joo is one of Daily NK's full-time journalists. He focuses on North Korean military matters. Please direct any questions about his articles to dailynkenglish@uni-media.net.