Fires spread across Lebanon, local firefighting planes need $450,000 maintenance

Fires in the Chouf area (Albawaba)
Fires in the Chouf area (Albawaba)

More than 104 fires have spread across Lebanon since early Monday morning, according to the Director-General of Civil Defense, Raymond Khattar.

The first fire started in Chouf’s Meshref area, quickly worsening with the ongoing heatwave, winds at a speed of 50 kilometers, and the lack of right resources to stop it. Heavily affected areas including Meshref, Debbieh, Mazraat Yeshou, and Akkar.

“We’re talking about many square kilometers, the fire was jumping from hill to hill due to the high winds,” said Khattar. The Chouf fires were initially under control by Monday night, according to Interior Minister Raya El Hassan, but overnight winds reversed the situation.

32-year-old Salim Abu Mjahed lost his life to a heart attack while fighting a wildfire that raged in Btater, Aley. Media also reported a woman was killed in Sidon after being hit by a fire truck and 5 firefighters sustained injuries in the line of duty but are in stable condition, as mentioned by the Daily Star.

Residents of the Chouf mountains and Akkar region abandoned their homes as flames engulfed their villages, and thousands of square meters of forests have been destroyed. The massive fires also led to the explosion of 20 landmines in Chouf, according to the director general of the Lebanese Civil Defense.

Cyprus’ Ministry of Foreign Affairs sent two fixed-wing firefighting planes to aid local authorities after Lebanese Defense Minister Elias Bou Saab requested help.

Bou Saab called on Cypriot help because Lebanon is not equipped to fight them, despite having three Sikorsky helicopters donated in 2009 to fight fires. The helicopters have been grounded for several years, because Lebanese governments have not secured a yearly $450,000 maintenance and spare parts fund for them.

While the Sikorsky can carry 4,000 liters of water, the Lebanese Army helicopters being used for the fires can only carry 700 liters, according to the Daily Star.

While politicians like Prime Minister Saad Hariri and former Prime Minister Tamam Salam say perpetrators will be brought to justice if the fires are intentional and that investigations are necessary, a study showed that 34 percent of Lebanese territory is at moderate to high risk of fires in 2019. 

Forest mismanagement and environmental factors in Lebanon are causing fires to spread in more areas and burn for longer, experts told The National in 2018.

Laudy Issa is a multimedia journalist and the Managing Editor of Beirut Today. You might catch her tripping over wires in local theatres or gigs.