Wildfire ravaging areas of natural beauty rages in Lebanon, spreads to Syria

Blaze, in its second day, has killed at least one person; dozens of firetrucks backed by air force helicopters battle fires in Lebanon’s north as flames cross border

A man tries to extinguish g a forest fire, at Qobayat village, in the northern Akkar province, Lebanon, July 29, 2021. (Hussein Malla/AP)
A man tries to extinguish g a forest fire, at Qobayat village, in the northern Akkar province, Lebanon, July 29, 2021. (Hussein Malla/AP)

QOBAYAT, Lebanon — Lebanese firefighters were struggling for the second day to contain wildfires in the country’s north that have spread across the border into Syria, civil defense officials in both countries said Thursday.

The fires killed at least one person, a 15-year-old boy, who was helping firefighting efforts in Lebanon.

Lebanon’s civil defense said it deployed 25 fire trucks, supported by four air force helicopters and military units, to put out the blaze. But the fires continued to rage, spreading east, and have already affected large swaths of forest in the mountainous north.

Residents posted videos and images of scorched forests, blackened trees, and fires on mountaintops, as the blaze closes in on the village of Qobayat.

There was no official estimate yet of the area affected. Lebanon’s Red Cross said late Wednesday it evacuated 17 people and treated more than 30, including eight who have been hospitalized.

The fire began Wednesday in the northern Akkar province and has since spread across into border areas of Syria’s Homs province. The Qobayat trail is described as having some of the most beautiful forests in Lebanon, with oak, pine, and cedar trees.

A Lebanese army helicopter drops water over a forest fire, at Qobayat village, in the northern Akkar province, Lebanon, July 29, 2021 (AP Photo/Hussein Malla)

Lebanon’s state-owned National News Agency said late Wednesday the fire spread over seven kilometers (four miles) and was two kilometers (1.2 miles) wide, claiming tens of thousands of pine trees so far.

In Syria, Syrian firefighters were also struggling to contain the fires in villages in the al-Qusair area, according to the state news agency SANA.

Syrian military helicopters have also been taking part in the operation since Wednesday. Syrian Civil Defense Chief General Saied al-Awad said gusty winds and high temperatures, as well as rugged terrain, are complicating the operations. Efforts are ongoing to contain the fires away from residential areas, he said, according to SANA.

Lebanon’s government has called for urgent assistance from neighboring Cyprus, which recently fought three days to put out one of its worst brush fires in decades.

Lebanon suffered devastating wildfires in October 2019 that lasted for more than two days and spread from the mountains in the Chouf area to just outside the capital Beirut. Lack of equipment and preparedness combined with high temperatures and gusty winds caused the fire to rage and destroy acres of forest.

The government’s handling of the fires was among the factors that fueled nationwide protests later that month, which were originally called over economic policy.

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