SIDON, Lebanon: Firefighting units battled a forest fire that erupted Monday in the southern town of Magdousheh for hours before successfully quelling the blaze, but not before vast tracts of agricultural land was razed to the ground and several people injured. Sources familiar with the issue told The Daily Star that the fire was started by a farmer attempting to clear brush. The flames soon devoured the dry grass and brush and spread on the wind.
Civil Defense and firefighters from the nearby city of Sidon, the village of Anqoun and the town of Sarafand were dispatched just after noon when the fire, which caused thick plumes of white smoke to blanket the sky, swept through the forests of Magdousheh, prompting authorities to evacuate the nearby Al-Aila School.
Ten firetrucks and members of Sidon’s firefighting unit rushed to the scene and worked to contain the fire as it approached high-voltage lines.
The size and ferocity of the blaze prompted the Army to send dozens of soldiers to take part in firefighting efforts. Eventually, an Army helicopter was dispatched to dump tanks of seawater on the fire.
Residents, who feared that the flames would spread further and endanger their homes, tried to extinguish the fire using shovels before firefighting units arrived.
The fire caused much damage in areas near the homes of the Sawaya, Haddad and Younan families and also in some neighboring ranches.
Efforts to extinguish the fire were hampered by strong winds that prompted the blaze to spread across larger swathes of land, trapping farmers in their fields and homes located on the edges of Magdousheh. The fires then reached the outskirts of the nearby village of Zaita.
A Lebanese soldier injured while trying to contain the fire was transferred to a local hospital. Other soldiers who were trapped by the encroaching flames were also rescued. Two other people suffered from asphyxia.
Agriculture in the town, known for its grape vineyards and olive trees, has been affected, as dozens of dunams were burned to the ground. As of Monday night, no estimates of the cost of the material damage were available.
Zahrani MP Michel Musa, who hails from Magdousheh, visited the scene of the fire. He contacted officials from relevant bodies, calling them to boost firefighting efforts. Speaking to reporters, Musa expressed regret at the damage caused by the fire on agricultural land. He also praised efforts exerted by the Army and the Civil Defense to put out the fire.
“It is unfortunately a disastrous situation, as the fire spread quickly because of the wind,” Musa said. “Actually, the Civil Defense heeded [firefighting] calls and Army soldiers were put on alert.”
Musa said it was very unfortunate that the fire damaged homes.
Every year, Lebanon witnesses forest fires at the end of summer and the beginning of fall. Last month, fires erupted in the villages of Sindiyaneh and Ayyat, in Akkar, and spread to nearby homes.
Although Lebanon bought Sikorski helicopters in the past few years to help extinguish fires, units still face challenges in putting out large fires quickly.