Lebanon Turns to Neighbors to Fight Wildfires
Wildfires spread through parts of Lebanon on Tuesday after forcing some residents to flee their homes in the middle of the night, while others were stuck inside as the flames reached villages south of Beirut, authorities said.
A heat wave in the region coupled with strong winds intensified the fires that began a day earlier in mostly pine forests around the country and three provinces in neighboring Syria.
Dozens of fires have erupted around Lebanon in the past few days, the head of civil defense Raymond Khattar told NNA, amid unusually high temperatures and strong winds.
Thick smoke has been seen drifting over the outskirts of Beirut, over the mountainous Chouf region to its southeast, and the southern city of Saida.
In the Chouf, an area known for its trees, a volunteer firefighter lost his life trying to put out the flames, his family said.
In an area south of Beirut, firefighters have for two days been unable to stop the blaze, which has burnt four homes to the ground and caused dozens to suffer from breathing difficulties, NNA said.
Interior Minister Raya El-Hassan said Cyprus and Greece had responded to Lebanon's call for help.
"Two Cypriot planes have been working to put out the fires since yesterday," she said on Twitter.
"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.
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 with Israel, has also joined in the efforts, the agency said.
The state has been widely criticized by residents because Lebanon bought three aircraft several years ago to be used in extinguishing fires but they have been parked at Beirut's airport with no money to maintain them.
As the fires raged overnight, a correspondent burst into tears while live on TV, saying she could hear people scream for help inside their homes but no one could reach them.
In neighboring Syria, fires spread in the coastal provinces of Latakia and Tartus, as well as the central province of Homs, but authorities there brought all the fires under control.