Lebanon is experiencing the heaviest forest fires witnessed in decades. 104 separate fires were reported, with the largest fires near Mushrif threatening residential areas and causing the displacement of hundreds of people.
Lebanon is facing a new crisis. A series of forest fires that started in the country’s western mountains have spread across the country due to higher-than-average seasonal temperature and strong winds. The blaze – the worst to take place in decades – have already resulted in the destruction of woodland and farmland, while threatening residential areas and resulting in the death of at least one volunteer firefighter.
According to Lebanon’s Civil Defence department, 104 fires were recorded, with the largest blaze taking place in the town of Mushrif in Mount Lebanon, south of Beirut. The fires reached the village of Dibbiya, burning the farmland there and threatening the homes of the residents. The fires have also crept near the Rafiq Hariri University. The cities of Beirut and Sidon, meanwhile, were draped in black smoke billowing from the countryside.
According to local news outlets, the fires and the heavy smoke caused residents in the Mushrif region to be trapped in their homes, forcing the fire department to rescue them. In a number of cases, residents suffered from suffocation. The encroachment of the fires on residential areas forced many residents to leave their homes with what little they could carry with them.
While the high temperatures are a factor, the country’s economic conditions – which have deteriorated significantly in recent months – have been cited as both the cause of the fires and a factor in their escalation. A number of journalists noted that people unable to afford fuel tend to chop wood and then torch the stumps to conceal their crime, resulting in fires. Lebanese citizens have also noted that the riot police brought in water cannons to fight the fires, as they have been better maintained and funded than fire engines, citing it as an example of the misallocation of resources, corruption and incompetence that caused Lebanon to come to the brink of economic collapse.
The Lebanese Government has since issued a call for help and received some assistance from Cyprus which supplied two fire trucks. Furthermore, Lebanese Prime Minister, Saad Hariri, vowed to bring the perpetrators of the fires to justice. However, the situation could soon become a regional crisis. In the neighbouring Syria, the countrysides of Tartus and Latakia witnessed similar fires, resulting in the deaths of at least two firefighters.