Forest fires scorch broad swaths of Lebanon

Forest fires scorch broad swathsof Lebanon

2 October 2007

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Civil defense chief points finger at poachers ‘trying to obtain charcoal’

Firefighters battled wildfires in steep valleys in several mountainous areas of Lebanon on Tuesday. Thousands of trees were charred and several homes damaged or destroyed.

Civil Defense workers, backed by Lebanese Army helicopters, struggled to extinguish blazes in the North and in the Chouf Mountains east of Beirut.

The fires also swept across stretches of forest in Qobeyyat and Andaqt in Northern Lebanon, forcing several schools to shut down.

There were no reports of casualties in the fires, which started overnight in the Chouf Mountains southeast of the capital and in areas in the North and the South of the country, the state-run National News Agency said.

Ghayath Boustani, an official in the Deir al-Qamar municipality, said strong eastern winds had caused the fires to spread and were making it difficult for firefighters to contain them and for helicopters to reach the area. It was still unclear what had set off the fires in the relatively cool mountain region, he said.

Summer fires are common in Lebanon’s mountains.

About 85 fires started on Tuesday and more than a 100 on Monday, the head of the Lebanese Civil Defense, Brigadier General Darwish Hobeika, told The Daily Star.

Hobeika added that investigations were under way to determine whether the fires had been set intentionally.

“It’s a 95 percent possibility that the fires were caused intentionally by people trying to obtain charcoal as a cheaper substitute for fuel,” Hobeika said.

An estimated 3,400,000 square meters of woodland were destroyed by fires in the Chouf region and around 200,000 square meters in the North.

Hobeika said almost 80 percent of fires had been contained but blazes still raged in the Northern town of Andaqt.

Interior Minister Hassan Sabeh requested firefighting planes from Italy on Tuesday.

Local media said some residents had been evacuated from their homes. Nine people trying to fight fires in the North had suffered from smoke inhalation, hospital sources said.

The blazes were worst in the area around Deir al-Qamar, a well-preserved Christian town in the Chouf that is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Television footage showed several burned cars on roads in the Chouf region and smoke billowing from thick forests.

“Fifteen people suffered injuries and burns, while 20 others were treated for respiratory problems” in the Chouf, Deir al-Qamar Municipality official Edy Renno said.

“About 10 houses were partly burned in the same region. Most of them were damaged on the rooftops because fires reached them from nearby trees,” Renno added.

He said several hectares of woods had caught fire in the ancient town of Deir al-Qamar and nearby villages, causing many people to don surgical masks because of the smoke.

In valleys  around Deir al-Qamar, hundreds of pine trees were burned. Several electricity and telephone poles had collapsed along the town’s main road.


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