Fires spread through parts of Lebanon, Syria

The Lebanese Civil Defense Directorate said that 104 fires have erupted in Lebanon since Monday night. Civil Defense Director General Gen. Raymond Khattar said “Lebanon has not seen anything similar for dozens of years, with fires reaching houses and institutions and burning forests home to natural biodiversity.”

The Syrian coastal regions endured similar fires. The disaster was caused by dry weather, high temperatures and strong winds.

On Monday night, fires ripped through the Shouf mountains and northern Metn in Mount Lebanon, reaching the forests of Zgharta in the north. Firefighters from the Civil Defense desperately tried to put out flames, but people woke at 3 a.m. only to see them revived and spreading from one region to another due to strong winds. Consequently, civilians had to intervene to extinguish the fires themselves, as government forces were not able to reach all burning areas.

Khattar said: “Over 200 Civil Defense vehicles were deployed. The massive fires led to the explosion of 20 land mines, laid during the civil war in areas declared off-limits.”

Lebanon requested urgent assistance from the Cypriots, who sent two aircraft. Following a meeting of the Disaster Response Committee, Interior Minister Raya Al-Hassan said she signed a “request for assistance from neighboring countries, and Greece responded to our request and will be sending aircraft. Jordan also expressed its readiness to send assistance.”

Following the meeting, Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri said: “There is a disaster. We are working very hard and the relief commission will take care of all the damaged properties. The most important thing now is that there are no injuries.”

Khattar said the “there are five minor injuries among Civil Defense volunteers, due to the fires and land mine explosions,” while according to the National News Agency, “32-year-old citizen Saleem Abu Moujahed died of a heart attack after helping to extinguish fires in Btater, Chouf. Abu Moujahed was previously operated for a stent implant in his heart.”

The Lebanese Red Cross announced that “between Monday night and Tuesday morning, Red Cross teams gave first aid in field hospitals to 72 people. Some were hospitalized while others were suffering from respiratory distress and minor burns.”

Mechref, a special residential area, seemed to be the most affected area. A resident said: “I bought a water tank with my own money to extinguish the fires near my house. Windows shattered all over the area due to the fires, and we made sure to help people, and even pets, evacuate their homes.”

From Mechref, fires spread toward Damour, Dibbiyeh, Kfarhim and Kfar Matta. The flames razed several kilometers of forest areas, and smoke covered the whole region and the outskirts of Beirut.

Churches, mosques and some hotels near the burning areas opened their doors to people seeking protection.

Palestnian Civil Defense forces in the Burj Al-Barajneh camp in Beirut’s southern outskirts and Ain El-Helweh camp in south Lebanon also helped put out the wildfires. The UN Interim Force in Lebanon also deployed vehicles to put out the fires.

A Lebanese citizen from Mechref said he and his neighbors “had to use water from the pool in their garden to put out the fires,” adding “the inability of the state frightens me.”

Another Lebanese citizen, whose house was damaged due to the fires, said: “I do not want to see officials rushing to the region to express their regret. People can no longer accept their neglect and apathy.”

Current and former state officials exchanged accusations regarding three helicopters — specialized in fighting fires — that were purchased with civilian contributions in 2009, but had ceased functioning years ago as the state did not allocate funds to maintain them.

Former Minister Fadi Abboud, head of the Permanent Green Association that purchased the three helicopters, asked why there was “no recourse to the Americans to provide maintenance supplies and adequate training for pilots, instead of asking Cyprus and other states for assistance.”

He added: “This is a grave negligence, I lost two years of my life to purchase the helicopters.”

In Syria, teams from the Directorate of Agriculture and Agrarian Reform, in cooperation with the Latakia Fire Brigade and the Civil Defense and with the support of firefighting brigades from Hama and Tartus, worked on putting out fires that erupted in Reef Latkia and spread at dawn.

The Syrian News Agency reported that “teams were able to distinguish 80 percent of the fires.”

The head of the directorare, Munzer Kherbek, said: “New fire lines were opened to reduce damages and protect properties. In 24 hours, firefighters were able to put out 17 fires that erupted simultaneously in Jableh and Al-Qardahah, despite the inaccessible terrain and the severe east wind.”

Kherbek announced that “two members from the Civil Defense were killed and others were injured.”

Fire brigades extinguished fires in Homs, in forest and agricultural areas in Al-Nasrah, Mishtaya, Ain Berda, Habnimra and Al-Zuqaytiniyah.

According to the Lebanese Civil Aviation Directorate’s Meteorological Department, temperatures are expected to cool down with rains on Wednesday.

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