Saturday, March 9, 2013

A Blazing Saturday

I had been looking forward to Saturday all week. The weather was predicted to be a perfect 70 degrees and sunny. After such a cold winter, I could not have been more excited for springtime weather. Andrew and I decided to check out a local park to see what it had to offer. After a short 10 minutes bus ride we arrived to be beautiful park, built on the side of a mountain and bustling with kids and families enjoying the beautiful day. We decided to climb one of the hiking trails. Hiking isn't a common past time for Andrew and I but we wanted to get a birds eye view of the beach and coastline of Pohang.

After a while, we descended down the backside so we could walk beachside. We stopped for about 30 min to watch a group of fellow foreigners playing some beach softball. After a while we all started smelling smoke. Looking around we could see some smoke clouds, but we just figured it was burning trash, a common practice in Korea. Andrew and I decided to venture back to our apartment and noticed the smoke clouds getting bigger. It was be becoming more difficult to breathe and ash was beginning to fall from the sky. We decided to run to our apartment to close all the windows we had opened and then venture to see where the fire was coming from.

Walking down our street to find the fire
We walked about 400 yards from our apt and stopped dead in our tracks as we could see a raging fire among the tree tops. We looked around nervously as the other Koreans were also stopped and staring at the fire. Not being able to understand what was being said, Andrew and I became very uneasy. We decided to walk back to our apartment when we saw one of the scariest sites of our lives. It was straight out of a Hollywood movie. The elementary school near our home was directly in the growing fires path. I have never seen flames like that in all of my life. It looked like the school was set in front of a green screen and the Forrest fire was digitally created. I quickly snapped out of that day dream as I could feel the heat from the flames and the loud crackle of the fire moving down the hill to the school. Its next stop was our neighborhood.

Not getting direction from any sort of authority, Andrew suggested we run home, grab a backpack with a few essentials and get out of there. So we ran to our apartment and started throwing in our computer, chargers, a change of clothes, camera, passports, and toothbrushes. As we were leaving, we could see the flames rolling over the hill behind our apartment. That's when it really hit me. This is happening. Our apartment could burn down.

I put the handkerchief over my mouth and we ran out of the building and watched in awe with the rest of our neighbors as the fire trickled down the hill. I had my one moment of panic but Andrew calmed me down. Reassuring me that we were safe and the stuff we had in our backpacks was a bonus. He grabbed my hand and we decided to walk downtown to a coffee shop to see if we could get Internet and find out what was going on.

The scene during our walk downtown looked like a movie set. Between the building gaps, you could see flames and the smoke turned the beautiful blue sky grey. It was so windy that containing the flames almost seemed like an impossible task. Planes were flying over head with their buckets of water and the traffic out of the city was at a standstill. Announcements were being made over the intercom system but being totally in Korean we had no idea what was being said which put me on edge a bit. We made it to the coffee shop but we weren't able to get any information.

Andrew next to our apt watching the firefighters
After a while, we decided to head back with our fingers crossed that everything was ok. The smoke in the tree lines was so thick it was hard to see if the fires were still burning near our apt. When we got to our street, people were still outside but none of the homes or apts seemed to be damaged! The flames were still trickling down the hill but they were containing it! It now looked like hundreds of little campfires all over the hill. The fire department was there with their hoses trying to wet the last bits of dry forest and doing their best to put the fires out.

We noticed people going back into the apartment buildings so we felt safe enough to do so. We had not eaten since 11am and it was now almost 8pm. We decided to get something to eat and get out of the area of our apt once again as the smoke in the air was heavy and my lungs and eyes were beginning to burn.
We we returned, the firemen were still there but we were very confident that everything was under control and the hundreds of little fires had greatly dwindled.

I had such a feeling of humility come over me. A fire, or any natural disaster for that matter, just reassured me that I am really not in control...but I know who is. When we were for sure our apartment was engulfed, I can honestly say that I felt a sense of calmness that everything was going to be ok.

For God did not give us a spirit of timidity (of cowardice, of craven and cringing and fawning fear) but [He has given us a spirit] of power and of love and of calm and well-balanced mind and discipline and self-control. -2 Timothy 1:7

God is out refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble. -Psalm 46

You can see how wide the wind spread the fire

Here you can watch a video of the fire from a Korean news team.