2008 Namdaemun fire

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Aftermath of the Namdaemun fire.
Before the Namdaemun fire.

The 2008 Namdaemun fire was an incident in which arsonist Chae Jong-gi (Hangul: 채종기; hanja: 蔡宗基) set fire to Seoul's historic Namdaemun gate on February 10, 2008, causing the 550-year-old structure's complete destruction. The gate has since been restored, and it reopened to the public on May 5, 2013.

The fire[edit]

The fire reportedly broke out at approximately 8:50 pm on Sunday, February 10, 2008. Firefighters soon arrived on the scene and started dousing the blaze with water in an attempt to extinguish the fire. Initially, the effort seemed successful: by late Sunday night, firefighters said they believed that they had contained the fire, with only minimal damage done to the wooden structure topping the otherwise stone structure. According to reports, they had been instructed by authorities not to be aggressive in fighting the fire out of fear that the structure would be damaged by the high-pressure water.[1]

After midnight, however, the dying fire suddenly reignited, quickly getting out of control. Despite the efforts of the more than 360 firefighters who were at the scene, the fire soon ended up destroying the entire wooden structure and causing substantial damage to the stone walls.[2][3] Though the fire did not result in any injuries, by early morning, February 11, the gate was left destroyed.[4]

The arsonist[edit]

Originally, the fire had been suspected to be accidental. However, many witnesses reported seeing someone enter the gate shortly before the fire, and two disposable lighters were found where the fire was believed to have started.[2]

Later investigations revealed that the fire was indeed an act of arson. A 69-year-old man identified as Chae Jong-gi was taken into police custody on February 12, on the suspicion that it was he who started the fire; Chae confessed to the crime 30 minutes after his arrest.[5][6][7] According to police reports, Chae arrived at Namdaemun around 8:35 pm carrying an aluminum ladder, three 1.5-liter bottles of paint thinner, and two cigarette lighters. With the ladder, he climbed the western wall of the gate, entered the gate, and walked up to the second floor. There, he started the fire by sprinkling the floor with paint thinner and lighting it.[8] Chae stated that he had started the fire because was upset about not having been paid in full for land he had sold to developers.[6] Chae had also been charged with setting fire to the Changgyeong Palace complex in Seoul in 2006.[9][10]

The reason he targeted Namdaemun was because it was easily accessible and was only secured by motion sensors.[11] He also considered attacking trains or buses, but decided not to due to the high number of casualties this would cause.[12]

Aftermath[edit]

Koreans mourn the loss of Namdaemun, which had been designated as National Monument No. 1.

South Korean newspapers blamed the government for failing to provide more security.[13]

The Cultural Heritage Administration of South Korea stated that it would take three years and $21 million to rebuild and restore the historic gate.[14] In 2006, 182 pages of blueprints of the gate had been made as a contingency measure against possible damages, making reconstruction possible.[15]

President Lee Myung-bak proposed starting a private donation campaign to finance the restoration of the gate.[16] Many people felt that the government should pay for the restoration because it had failed to adequately protect the structure.[17] Lee's transitional committee clarified the president-elect's comments by stating that the government would pay for the majority of the restoration.[17]

The gate reopened on May 5, 2013.

Gallery[edit]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ "Koreans mourn fall of Namdaemun, national treasure No.1". Yonhap News. 2008-02-11. Archived from the original on 14 February 2008. Retrieved 2008-02-14. 
  2. ^ a b Kwok, Vivian Wai-yin (2008-02-11). "Korea's Historic Namdaemun Gate Toppled By Fire". Forbes. Archived from the original on 14 February 2008. Retrieved 13 February 2008. 
  3. ^ http://flickr.com/photos/pwalks/sets/72157603882436188/
  4. ^ "Fire ravages South Korea landmark". BBC News. 2008-02-11. Archived from the original on 12 February 2008. Retrieved 2008-02-11. 
  5. ^ "Man 'confesses to S Korea blaze'". BBC News. 2008-02-12. Archived from the original on 13 February 2008. Retrieved 2008-02-13. 
  6. ^ a b Kim Tae-jong (2008-12-12). "Suspect Admits Arson on Namdaemun". Korea Times. Archived from the original on 15 February 2008. Retrieved 13 February 2008. 
  7. ^ "Man 'Arsonist Blames President Roh'". Korea Times. 2008-02-14. Archived from the original on 15 February 2008. Retrieved 14 February 2008. 
  8. ^ "Gate was ‘easy to approach and poorly guarded’". JoongAng Daily. 2008-02-13. Retrieved 2008-03-18. 
  9. ^ "SKorea arsonist in Namdaemun fire had grudge over land dispute: police". Google. Agence France-Presse. 2008-02-12. Archived from the original on 15 February 2008. Retrieved 13 February 2008. 
  10. ^ Hyung-Jin Kim (2008-02-11). "Fire destroys South Korean landmark". Yahoo! News. Associated Press. Archived from the original on 2008-02-13. Retrieved 2008-02-11. 
  11. ^ Pavia, Will (2008-02-12). "Suspect held after blaze guts South Korean landmark". The Times (London). Retrieved 2008-02-13. 
  12. ^ "Namdaemun Arson Suspect Confesses". The Chosun Ilbo. 2008-02-13. Archived from the original on 2008-02-14. Retrieved 2008-02-13. 
  13. ^ "Arrest In Burning Of S. Korean Landmark". CBS News. 2008-02-12. Archived from the original on 19 February 2008. Retrieved 2008-02-13. 
  14. ^ Choe Sang-Hun (2008-02-12). "South Korean Gate Destroyed in Fire". The New York Times. Archived from the original on 14 February 2008. Retrieved 13 February 2008. 
  15. ^ Chung Ah-young (2008-02-11). "Three Years Needed for Restoration". Korea Times. Archived from the original on 20 February 2009. Retrieved 5 February 2009. 
  16. ^ Kim Yon-se (2008-02-12). "Donation for Gate Restoration Proposed". Korea Times. Archived from the original on 15 February 2008. Retrieved 13 February 2008. 
  17. ^ a b Shin Hae-in (2008-02-13). "Controversy erupts over fundraising for historic gate". Yonhap News. Archived from the original on 19 February 2008. Retrieved 2008-02-13. 

External links[edit]

Coordinates: 37°33′35″N 126°58′31″E / 37.55972°N 126.97528°E / 37.55972; 126.97528