Lebanese citizens in the Chouf district evacuated their homes on Tuesday as forest fires ravaged the Chouf’s tree-covered mountains.
The sudden rise in temperature is said to have caused the forest fires that began in southern-central Lebanon early on Monday.
The Civil Defense, Sidon Fire Department, and the Lebanese Army worked to put out the fire in the early hours of Monday, according to Lebanon’s Daily Star newspaper. However, overnight winds caused the blaze to break out again.
A volunteer firefighter lost his life trying to put out the flames, his family said.
Lebanon’s Red Cross said that 18 people have so far been hospitalized and 88 have received emergency medical care.
The fires have left charred trees and burned-out cars and have overpowered Lebanon’s fire brigades, prompting appeals to neighboring states to send aircraft to bolster efforts.
A civil defence official said 104 fires had broken out over the past 24 hours, and that residents had been evacuated from homes and buildings to minimize the toll.
Videos of the blaze spread quickly on social media platforms accompanied by the Arabic hashtag “Lebanon is burning,” as people called on the authorities to quickly take the necessary actions to control the fire.
The Chouf district is known for its natural beauty and is a tourist destination.
According to a study by Lebanon’s Ministry of Environment, around 34 percent of the country’s territory is at moderate to high risk of fires this year. Environmental factors could lead to Lebanon facing its worst fire season in many years, experts told The Daily Star newspaper.
Turning to neighbors for help
Lebanon’s Prime Minister Saad Hariri said on Tuesday the government has asked for outside support in fighting the fires and that an investigation will be launched to determine the cause of the fires, according to Lebanese newspaper The Daily Star.
“We have contacted the Europeans who will send means of help,” Prime Minister Saad Hariri said in comments carried by national news agency NNA.
Cyprus sent helicopters on Tuesday morning to help put out the flames, according to the country’s Interior Minister Raya El Hassan.
“Cypriot helicopters are working to extinguish the fires in Mechref,” El Hassan said in a tweet.
“Greece has responded to our request and will send two planes to help us,” she added, while Jordan also said it was ready to help.
Lebanon’s Minister of Defense Elias Bou Saab also shared a video on Twitter of two helicopters putting out the fire in the town of Mechref.
NNA said the army was working together with helicopters and the Cypriot planes to fight the blaze, with access sometimes impeded by thick smoke and high-voltage power lines.
UN peacekeeping force UNIFIL, whose members usually patrol the country’s southern border, has also joined in the efforts, the agency said.