A massive forest fire that broke out in the Lebanese Chouf village of Mechref raged well into the afternoon on Tuesday, affecting hundreds of neighboring towns.
The rate at which the fire spread prompted local authorities to call for Cypriot help to extinguish the flames. On Tuesday, government officials called on additional support from Greek and Jordanian officials who also sent in rescue helicopters to aid with the ongoing efforts.
There still is no official data on the number of civilians, property, and acres of land affected by the tragic natural disaster. However, local media confirmed that the fires resulted in one dead, Salim Abou Moujahed. The man died from suffocation after helping to put out a fire in his hometown. Five Civil Defense firefighters were also injured in the line of duty; they are currently in stable condition.
Amid the chaos ensuing as a result of the devastating incident, locals were left with so many unanswered questions: Why were three Lebanese-owned Sikorsky helicopters - which are specialized for such scenarios - out of service at the time of the fires? Why were local authorities so unprepared for a natural disaster of this scale? And, most importantly, why were Lebanese politicians so adamant on blaming everyone but themselves over the entire happenings?
Instead of taking responsibility for being unprepared to handle the natural disaster, leaders including Lebanese politician and member of parliament Mario Aoun alluded to the fact that the fires were perpetrated and "motivated by sectarianism."
"We have huge suspicions over this incident and though my words may be sectarian I ask how are these fires only reaching Christian villages?" he said.
Yes, in the midst of devastating fires, this leader suggested that Muslims and people of other faiths were targeting Christians.
It's this very problematic rhetoric promoted by state speakers that keeps Lebanese divided instead of uniting them against a corrupt government that's failing at fulfilling even the most basic of its duties.
Racist theories were, unfortunately, all over social media as well
Aoun isn't the only one to come up with ridiculous theories to dodge responsibility over the unprecedented rate at which the fires spread. Environment Minister Fadi Jreissati also said "some fires may have been set intentionally," even though no evidence exists of that and no official investigation has been launched into the matter as of yet.
Some also took the opportunity to express their blatant racism, claiming Syrian refugees were walking through flames to steal houses affected by the fires. A Facebook page called Zgharta Ehden Daily posted the same claim to its 144,000 followers but deleted the post later on after the page was reported by online users. A few people took the claim seriously, though, using it as an excuse to blame Syrians for exasperating the natural disaster.
In some villages, local police reportedly beat up and arrested Syrian refugees, blaming them for intentionally starting fires.
Basically, those in power used everything within their means to distract people from the real issue here: No official put forth an effective plan in the face of an event of this scale, even though fires have affected the country during the same season in previous years.
Regardless of what caused the forest fires, shouldn't the ministers who are paid to govern Lebanon have the decency to question their own response to the tragedy? Shouldn't they wait for a proper investigation to be launched before throwing blame at specific religious groups and refugees? They should, but other narratives (racist, Islamophobic, what have you) clog their minds.
So what could have really caused such massive fires?
Environmentalists and climate experts have long warned of the susceptibility of Lebanon's lush forest and mountainous areas to wildfires.
These fires could've been caused by a sudden rise in temperature recorded in the country earlier this week. They could've been the result of negligence on part of civilians. It's a known fact that many Lebanese put out cigarettes in green areas, discard of flammable waste in wooded spaces, and sometimes leave campfires unattended.
The true cause remains unconfirmed but, regardless, the flames were certainly made worse by the fact that no Sikorsky helicopters were available in the first hours after the fire started. Officials said this was due to the fact that choppers bought by Lebanon's government in previous years were unmaintained due to lack of government funds.
After visiting Debbieh to help evacuate those affected by the fires, Beirut MP Paula Yacoubian confirmed the lack of resources available to civil defense officers and civilians.
"It was catastrophic, there was barely even any Civil Defense present. It was a huge fire and you had eight to nine people there to fight it. There was no water available, so no one could put out the fire," she explained.
What worsened the situation even further is the fact that the country's firefighters aren't equipped with any advanced tools needed to put out fires and were left to their own means to help extinguish flames. In some cities, civilian volunteers joined efforts to help out rescue teams.
"Lebanon is burning" continues to trend on Twitter
Jreissati and several other officials explained that "the risk of fires would remain high over the next three days." However, late on Tuesday, rain fell over some of the areas affected by the fires, which helped settle them down. Throughout the ordeal, people have been sharing videos and photos of the devastating fire under the Arabic hashtag #LebanonIsBurning.
Some are mourning the situation while others are sharing inspiring stories of how civilians are trying to help one another amid the catastrophe.
Many are rightfully criticizing the government, accusing it of being incapable of handling such natural disasters or any other large scale emergency for that matter. A few are calling on authorities who mishandled the situation to be held accountable or to - at least - resign.