Residents flee Lebanon forest fire

2010-12-05 18:31

Fatri - Firefighters in Lebanon battled a forest blaze on Sunday that has raged out of control for the past week, and frightened villagers north of Beirut fled as flames threatened to engulf their homes.

As an international flotilla of firefighting planes in neighbouring Israel finally brought under control the largest fire in that nation's history after a four-day battle, 42 separate blazes were reported in Lebanon, four of them large, the civil defence services said.

President Michel Sleiman travelled to the village of Fatri, 45km north of Beirut to inspect efforts to control the blaze, which has devastated 150 000m²  of woodland.

Municipal council leader Imad Daou told AFP that rough terrain hampered the firefighting effort while high winds had fanned the flames. "Trees more than 100 years old, olive groves and pines have been lost," he said.

The blaze has claimed no lives, but six civil defence personnel have suffered minor injuries. Frightened villagers began to flee from their homes on Sunday.

Lebanese army helicopters tried to douse the flames from the air, while firefighters battled the blaze on the ground.

A civil defence official said the emergency services were fighting "numerous fires" in different parts of the country fuelled by tinderbox conditions.

Need more capacity

Another large blaze raged on Sunday in the Wadi Shahrur area close to the capital, also threatening homes.

"We need three times more capacity to face these fires," Interior Minister Ziad Baroud told reporters.

"The inability to put out the fires is due to a lack of strategy," Sleiman told LBC television.

"We must work out a national plan to fight fires," he said, adding his regret that "political tensions delay everything".

According to the meteorological service, Lebanon has recorded just 51.2mm of rain since September, compared with 214.8mm in the same period last year.

Lebanon's southern neighbour Israel, affected by the same extended summertime conditions and drought, has been battling a forest fire since last Thursday.

That blaze killed 41 people.