A massive forest fire, which broke out early Monday morning in the Lebanese Chouf village of Meshref, has left the country's lush mountains in flames. The wildfire has been described as the "worst to hit Lebanon in decades."
The rate at which the fire spread, reaching a nearby university and elementary school, prompted Lebanese authorities to call for Cypriot help to extinguish the flames. Cyprus answered the call around 3:30 p.m. on Monday, sending two aircrafts to help, according to The Daily Star. Aerial assistance from the latter helped settle the raging wildfires which were burning for over 12 hours prior. Local residents feared overnight winds would cause the flames to break out again.
Raymond Khattar, director-general of Civil Defense, announced there had been 104 fires on Lebanese territory in the last 24 hours.
"We're speaking of many square kilometers; the fire was jumping from hill to hill due to the high winds," he said.
At around 1:30 a.m. on Tuesday, the mountains were still burning. The photo below was taken on the Saida-Beirut highway at that time, exposing the massive fire near the Carmel Saint Joseph school in the Meshref area.
It's been reported that the Civil Defense, Sidon Fire Department, and the Lebanese Army attempted to put out the fire after it reportedly broke out at 4:30 a.m. on Monday. The fire continued and extended to other areas including Debbieh, Baawarta, Damour, and Naameh. By Tuesday morning, it still hadn't been put out.
There were some difficulties navigating through the site due to the number of landmines in the area.
"There is fear and caution in the firefighting because of the landmines," said Interior Minister Raya El Hassan, according to The Daily Star. Earlier this year, experts also told The Daily Star that Lebanon was facing a "fire season." Around 34 percent of the country's territory is at "moderate to high risk of fires this year," according to a study with Environmental Ministry.
There was at least one casualty as a result of the wildfires, according to The Daily Star. Salim Abou Moujahed, who was helping to put out the fire, died after reportedly suffocating. Five Civil Defense firefighters were also injured in the line of duty; they are currently in stable condition.
The fire has damaged the country's mountainous area, houses, and a special needs center run by non-profit organization Arcenciel. An emotional video has been circulating online of a journalist with Al Jadeed in tears while reporting the Damour fire, saying people are trapped inside their burning homes.
Abir Ali El Moukaddam, a resident of the Meshref area, shared with StepFeed photos of her house and the damages it sustained in the midst of it all — photos taken by her husband Ghanem Ali Arbid.
"It was really a team work [...] some people paid from their personal money to get water tanks to help extinguish the fire," she told us over a phone call. Luckily, no house was burnt to the ground or affected massively, according to her, so people will be able to go back home soon enough.
"The problem is that there are way too many trees here, and among them dried golden thistles that can easily catch fire, and that's what happened," she explained, adding that pine cones in flames were popping and flying around, which caused the fire to spread even more.
Residents of Meshref are calling on authorities to launch an investigation as they believe a fire at 1:30 a.m. could only be intentional.
People have been sharing videos and photos of the devastating fire under the Arabic hashtag #LebanonIsBurning.
According to The Daily Star, Environment Minister Fadi Jreissati said "the risk of fires would remain high over the next three days. He also said some fires may have been set intentionally."
In the meantime, people are mourning the situation and criticizing the government for not being well-equipped to handle such disasters. Three Sikorsky helicopters - which are specialized for such scenarios - were out of service at the time of the fires after the government's failure to secure funds for maintenance and spare parts, according to The Daily Star.
"God bless" messages all around
"My heart hurts so much"
"An awful disaster"
"Taken from my parents home in Chouf"
Sarah Trad contributed to this post.