The 2008 Namdaemun fire was a fire set by Korean citizen and arsonist Chae Jong-gi (Hangul: 채종기) that occurred on the Namdaemun, the most historically significant gate in Seoul, South Korea, and the first of Korea's National Treasures, on the date of February 10, 2008. The fire caused severe damage to the structure.
At approximately 8:50 p.m. on Sunday, February 10, 2008, a fire broke out and severely damaged the wooden structure at the top of the gate. By late Sunday night, firefighters said they believed that they had contained the fire. Firefighters were instructed by officials not to be aggressive in fighting the fire out of fear that the structure would be damaged by the effort itself.
The fire itself was set when Chae Jong-gi arrived at Namdaemun around 8:35 p.m. on Sunday carrying an aluminum ladder, three 1.5 liter bottles of paint thinner, and two cigarette lighters. He climbed up the western wall of the gate with the ladder, used the ladder to enter the tower, and walked up to the second floor. Chae sprinkled the floor with the paint thinner and lit the fire.
The cause was originally suspected as accidental; however, many witnesses reported seeing a suspicious man shortly before the fire, and two disposable lighters were found where the fire was believed to have started.
A 69-year-old man identified as Chae Jong-gi was arrested on suspicion of arson and then later confessed to the crime 30 minutes after his arrest. A police captain reported that Mr. Chae sprayed paint thinner on the floor of the structure and then set fire to it. Police say that Mr. Chae was upset about not having been paid in full for land he had sold to developers. The same man had been charged with setting a fire at Changgyeong Palace in Seoul in 2006.
The reason that he targeted Namdaemun was because it was easily accessible and had just one security measure, namely motion sensor detectors. He also considered attacking trains or buses, but decided not to due to the high casualties that would follow.
South Korean newspapers blamed the government for not enacting stronger security measures.
The Cultural Heritage Administration of South Korea said that it would take three years and $21 million to rebuild and restore the historic gate. 182 pages of blueprints for the gate were made in 2006 as a contingency against any emergencies which may damage the structure, making reconstruction possible.
President Lee Myung-bak proposed starting a private donation campaign to finance the restoration of the structure. Many people felt that the government should pay for the restoration because it had failed to adequately protect the structure. Lee's transitional committee clarified the president-elect's comments by saying that the government should still pay for the majority of the restoration.