Lebanon — Tongues of flame shot up in the sky and thick smoke billowed from the green woods blanketing the mountainous range east of Beirut Tuesday as firefighters tried in vain to control the spreading inferno threatening summer resorts overlooking the capital. The thuds of exploding land mines and artillery shells littering the wild forests since the civil war echoed across the Souq al-Gharb-Aley region east of Beirut, preventing firefighters from moving in.
Prime Minister Fouad Saniora instructed officials to seek help from Jordan, Cyprus, Greece and Italy in aerial firefighting techniques because land crews cannot move in due to the threat of mines.
Lebanese army choppers dangling buckets of seawater shuttled the 10-minute flight from the Mediterranean to the rough slopes in an apparent effort to combat the blaze.
But blowing winds and the summer heat kept the fire on and spreading.
Rescue efforts by choppers and land crews focused on showering a 50-meter deep strip on the eastern edge of the woods to prevent the fire from spreading and reaching a petrol station on the main highway linking Souq al-Gharb to Aley.
“If the gas station catches fire, that would lead to a disaster. It is close to population centers and its tanks are full,” a Civil Defense Directorate official told Naharnet.
“Our efforts are focused on preventing the spread of fire to population centers. But this cannot go on for long. We need help to extinguish the blaze before it develops into an all out inferno,” he added.
The three main population centers surrounding the woods are the resorts of Souq al-Gharb, Bmikkine and Aitat “but they are not facing immediate threat, at present,” the official said.
“If fire persisted by night fall, we might need to empty the gas station’s tanks and order an evacuation of the population,” he added.
Forest fires in 2007 destroyed hundreds of hectares of woodland in Green Lebanon.