Rushed Work Schedule Leads to Fatal Fire at North Korean Resort

An unknown number are killed or injured when a blaze blamed on faulty wiring sweeps through a workers' barracks.

The Wonsan-Kalma seaside tourist resort in North Korea is shown under construction in a May 14, 2018 photo.

A crushing, round-the-clock work schedule at a seaside resort being built for foreign tourists in North Korea has led to a fire that swept through a workers’ barracks, killing an unknown number, North Korean sources said.

At least 40 laborers and technicians were asleep in their rooms when the blaze, blamed on a short circuit in wiring, broke out, a source in the country’s coastal North Hamgyong province told RFA’s Korean Service.

“It’s unclear how many people died in the fire, but there were reportedly a large number of casualties,” RFA’s source said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

“The fire spread quickly through the barracks, and the workers who were deeply asleep couldn’t escape the flames,” he said.

Accelerated work schedules at the Wonsan-Kalma maritime tourist zone, a high-profile project now pushed for completion by October 10 by central government authorities, has left workers exhausted with only three to four hours’ sleep each day, the source said.

“The Central Committee provides no construction materials or funds for the work, though, and so different organizations in the province have to support the project on their own.”

“The fire broke out in a section overseen by the province’s External Services Bureau,” a department responsible for the management of hotels and other matters involving foreign visitors, RFA’s source said.

“It was caused by a short circuit in the wiring,” he said.

Also speaking to RFA, a source in neighboring North Pyongan province agreed that work schedules were to blame for the fire, which had killed and injured a still unknown number of people working on the site.

“More and more, local residents who hear about the deaths of these workers are expressing their dissatisfaction with how the construction is being pushed along,” he said.

“And even though a seaside resort is being built, we’ll never get to go there.”

Because construction crews are now being forced to work long hours with limited resources, “accidents are bound to happen here and there,” he said. “And so the workers feel uneasy.”

Reported by Jieun Kim for RFA’s Korean Service. Translated by Leejin Jun. Written in English by Richard Finney.