Lebanon battles wildfires for third straight day

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Lebanon battled rapidly spreading wildfires for a third straight day Friday after they destroyed pine forests and threatened homes in northern areas.

The blaze that started Wednesday in Lebanon’s remote Akkar region “is spreading quickly over large areas,” Agriculture Minister Abbas Mortada told AFP.

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“It’s spreading in all directions” fanned by high winds, Mortada said, adding that it had reached neighboring Syria.

The blaze, which has killed a 15-year-old volunteer firefighter and forced many people from their homes, gained pace overnight, according to the state-run National News Agency.

“The fires were out of control in the Jabal Akroum” region which straddles the border, NNA said.

“The area affected by the fire expanded significantly overnight... approaching orchards, farmland and some homes evacuated by their residents,” it said.

There is no official estimate of the size of the area affected.

The army deployed two helicopters early Friday to help douse the flames and more local volunteers joined the firefighting effort, NNA said.

The Red Cross treated one volunteer with breathing difficulties, it added.

George Abou Moussa of Lebanon’s civil defense said firefighting teams were working to contain the blaze.

“But there are areas we can’t reach,” he told AFP.

According to Mortada, the cash-strapped government is looking for outside help.

“The Lebanese government doesn’t have access to many firefighting aircraft,” and is pinning its hopes on assistance from Cyprus, Greece and neighboring Syria, Mortada said.

For it’s part, Syria said that it has managed to contain fires spreading from Lebanese territory.

“The fire that spread from Lebanese territory to the... Qusayr region has been completely extinguished,” the state SANA news agency reported, citing the director of Syria’s civil defense.

The government’s failure to contain devastating wildfires in October 2019 was one of the triggers of an unprecedented, nationwide protest movement against perceived official incompetence and corruption.

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