New Lebanon forest fires threaten homes

New Lebanon forest fires threaten homes

5 August 2008

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Lebanon — More devastating forest fires hit Lebanese villages on Tuesday, putting dozens of houses at risk in the latest blazes to hit the country’s dwindling green areas, officials said.

A Lebanese Civil Defence official told AFP that fires struck forests in Ainab, southeast of Beirut as well as Qartaba, northeast of Beirut.

“The fire is spreading though about 150 hectares (371 acres) of forest, though not all of them have been burned down,” the official said, adding the Lebanese helicopters and a Cypriot plane were helping put out the fires.

“We expect to put out the fire within an hour in Ainab, but the one in Qartaba needs more time,” he said.

Residents from the village of Ainab were assisting firefighters and the army in putting out the flames with buckets of water and hoses, an AFP photographer at the scene reported.

Fuad al-Shaar, the mayor of Ainab, said earlier that the fires had surrounded one house.

“The fire started overnight and fires don’t start alone,” he said, raising the possibility that they might have been started on purpose.

Lebanon witnessed its worst forest fires in 10 years last October which destroyed 4,000 hectares of forest and left one person dead and dozens injured in a country once known as the Switzerland of the Middle East.

Sawsan Bou Fakhreddine of the Association for Forests, Development and Conservation, said over 50 hectares (124 acres) of mostly pine forest had burned down in Ainab on Tuesday.

“Last year, we lost about 4,000 hectares (9880 acres) of forest and this year’s forest fire season started early. If this same fire occurred in October, it would have been much worse, due to the winds,” she said.

“Lebanon is losing much of its green cover and is not taking any proactive preventative measures. We always react to the fire and we are slow to do that,” she said.

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