Lebanon — Fire fighters aided by army and Cypriot helicopters on Wednesday contained a major forest fire in Kartaba, north of Byblos, said the head of theCivil Defense. Brigadier Darwish Hobeika told The Daily Star Wednesday that the fires “were under control” in all areas except Tellet al-Nimrud, near Kartaba, where fire fighting efforts were obstructed as a result of a lack of roads in the area.
Fresh blazes erupted on Tuesday in the Aley and Kabr Shmoun regions, destroying pine and oak forests and threatening nearby villages.
Hobeika said that the fire at Tallet al-Namrud would be contained within “3 to 5 hours if the wind is calm,” adding that two helicopters would be used in the mission.
Forest fires are a regular feature during Lebanon’s dry summer months. Sawsan Bou Fakhreddine, General Director of the Association for Forests, Development and Conservation, said Lebanon typically losses 1,200 hectares of forest in fires annually.
This week’s fires in Kartaba and Aley had destroyed 460 hectares of forest and had resulted in over $8 million in lost wood, she said. “We are only at the beginning of the fire season now and we have already lost 600 hectares,” added Fakhreddine, predicting that fires in 2008 would wreak higher levels of damage than usual.
“This year could be bad, especially between September and October,” when “the most dangerous fires” occur, aggravated by “high winds and parched land,” she added.
It is not yet known how the fires began, but Fakhreddine said she believed there were “no criminal intentions” behind the blazes. But she lamented the “absence of the authorities who fine” people who deliberately start fires. “In 85 percent of the cases, the reason for the fire is cited as ‘unknown’,” Fakhreddine said. “The investigations are not being taken seriously.”
Also on Wednesday, Saad Elias, press adviser to EnvironmentMinister Tony Karam, said the minister had received a report on the fires during a meeting with representatives from various Lebanese cedar reserve associations. Karam discussed with the representatives the ways in which “the neglect of people when camping or picnicking” could be halted.
Elias added that Karam, who has been working to improve the capabilities and logistics of the Civil Defense, is in talks to establish the position of general prosecutor for the environment at the Justice Ministry.
The office would “be charged with taking legal action against those who perpetrate violations against the environment, receiving and studying environment complaints, and monitoring quarry mining” in Lebanon. “The issue was being studied withPrime Minister Fouad Siniora,” Elias told The Daily Star, adding that Karam was working in close cooperation with Interior Minister Ziyad Baroud.
On July 24, the head of Parliament’s Environment Committee MP Akram Chehayeb launched a campaign to rehabilitate forest land in Aley destroyed by fire. “I urge all municipalities to launch a workshop aimed at maintaining forests … before it is too late,” he told reporters. “Is the environment a priority for the Lebanese state? I don’t think so because some people consider the environment as one of the country’s luxury issues,” Chehayeb added.
“In the long term, Lebanon needs a national fire management plan andcentralized decision-making strategies,” said Fahkreddine. “In the short term, land owners and local municipalities need to maintain forested areas, and the fire-fighting capabilities of the Civil Defense and Army needs to be increased,” she added.