BEIRUT: Lebanese Army and Civil Defense teams succeeded in dousing the majority of forest fires that erupted across Lebanon over the weekend, Interior Minister Ziyad Baroud said Sunday.
Forest fires raged across the country, forcing hundreds of residents to flee their homes as flames drew near homes and prompting the Lebanese government to seek the assistance of Turkey and Jordan.
According to Baroud, 120 fires erupted over the weekend, 57 of which started Sunday. The major fires hit the villages of Fitri in the Jbeil region and Wadi Shahrour in Baabda. Families teamed up with the Lebanese Army and Civil Defense personnel in Wadi Shahrour and Fitri to contain flames that threatened homes and properties.
“The fire in Wadi Shahrour was totally extinguished, while teams succeeded in containing almost 90 percent of the fire in Fitri,” the interior minister told The Daily Star, but expressed his concerns that overnight westerly winds would revive flames.
Baroud said four Lebanese Army helicopters and the country’s newly bought three Sikorsky planes contributed to efforts to put out the flames. “But we need more helicopters, at least 10, so that our response is more efficient,” he said.
President Michel Sleiman travelled to the village of Fitri to monitor efforts to control the blaze, which affected 150,000 square meters of woodland. Sleiman said political bickering in the country delayed all developmental projects. “Fires have reached the homes of innocent people who have nothing to do with politics,” he said, adding that Lebanon was in dire need of crisis management strategies.
Prime Minister Saad Hariri called for an urgent meeting of ministers and concerned authorities to discuss the issue of forest fires at the Grand Serail Monday, his office said in a statement. While still on a state-visit to Muscat Sunday, Hariri contacted Jordanian King Abdullah II and Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu to send helicopters to help extinguishing fires in Lebanon. The prime minister, according to his office, also kept in contact with the interior minister to check on the progress of fire fighting operations, and informed him about the contacts he made to ask for external assistance in this regard
Baroud, meanwhile, said Spain has also offered to take part in extinguishing efforts. “Although were were able to contain most of the fires, outside help is still needed in case new fires erupt.”
Lebanon’s southern neighbor Israel succeeded Sunday in containing fires that erupted in the Carmel hills above the Mediterranean port of Haifa. Aircraft were brought in from several countries, including Greece, Britain, Cyprus, Turkey, Russia and France to help contain the deadly blazes which claimed the lives of at least 42 people.
The eastern-Mediterranean region has witnessed unseasonably high temperatures over the past two months, threatening crops and heralding serious water shortages. Thermometers scored a high of 28 degrees Celsius in Lebanon over the weekend, a temperature rarely if ever witnessed in the country during the month of December.
Lebanon’s meteorological department predicted the hot weather to ease as of Monday morning with showers and a significant drop in temperatures expected.
Baroud said lack of rain has created tinder box conditions, which facilitates the proliferation of fires. “Global warming and extremely dried out soil are the main factors behind the weekend fires,” he said. Asked whether the scenario of arson was being examined, the interior minister said: “I really cannot tell but I have my doubts.” He said 120 fires erupting over a period of two days only “raises serious questions.”