BEIRUT

Lebanon News

Heat wave sparks forest fires across the country

Massive forest fires devour swaths of wilderness in Wadi Shahrour. (The Daily Star/File)

BEIRUT: As Civil Defense units rallied to douse out flames, forest fires raged on in north and south Lebanon Wednesday, leaving clouds of smoke above forests, villages and the revered statue of Virgin Mary in the southern village of Maghdoushe. Jbeil’s Civil Defense unit put out three fires that erupted in the Monsef area of Jbeil Wednesday afternoon.

The fires damaged all electrical appliances in a nearby home, and ravaged an entire office on the Monsef highway while burning 3,000 meters of oak trees and forages.

Another fire broke out shortly afterward in the nearby village of Kfarsala in Amchit. Civil Defense units worked on extinguishing the blaze until late Wednesday night.

A large fire erupted in the South Lebanon village of Maghdoushe, leaving behind a dense cloud of smoke that covered the area’s Virgin Mary statue. Nearby municipalities dispatched fire trucks to aid dousing the flames.

One day earlier, a huge fire erupted in the Litani valley region Tuesday, ravaging through large acres of olive groves and oak trees.

The fire extended to nearby valleys as local villagers and units from the Civil Defense worked to extinguish the flames.

The Meteorological Department at Rafik Hariri International Airport confirmed that Lebanon was witnessing a heat wave, but added that there was no need for panic.

With temperatures going up to 35 degrees in select areas, the airport source said that the high temperatures would soon be interrupted, adding that the heat wave “is expected to break by the end of the week, and temperatures will decline.”

David Schroder, the director of Economic Growth, Water and Environment at USAID-Lebanon, said that the main causes behind the increase in forest fires were lower precipitation rates and warmer temperatures.

“Lower precipitation are caused by reduced rainfall and as a result forest floors trap less moisture, leading to a dry underground and upper ground,” Schroder said.

“The warmer temperatures warm the surfaces and make them dryer,” he added, noting that the combination makes it more likely for natural forest fires to erupt.

Schroder also pointed to the increase in refugees living in rural areas, saying that the phenomenon creates an extra risk factor for accidental fires.

“A lot of refugees living in rural areas are living outside and cooking outside, which makes the risk pertaining to accidental fires much higher,” Schroder said.

“People migrating from nearby villages, setting up campfires and moving on also add to the risk. So it’s not surprising there is an increase in forest fires,” he added.

The USAID director stressed the need to help communities understand forest fires, especially how to prevent, approach and deal with them.

“In doing so communities have to organize emergency groups and need to coordinate with local authorities” he said.

Schroder also stressed the need to reforest in the aftermath of the forest fires, suggesting that communities work with municipalities in order to plant in appropriate ways in reforested areas.

More than 35 percent of the forest cover in Lebanon has deteriorated over the last 40 years, leaving just 13 percent of Lebanon forested, according to local NGO the Association for Forests, Development and Conservation.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on July 31, 2014, on page 4.

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Summary

As Civil Defense units rallied to douse out flames, forest fires raged on in north and south Lebanon Wednesday, leaving clouds of smoke above forests, villages and the revered statue of Virgin Mary in the southern village of Maghdoushe. Jbeil's Civil Defense unit put out three fires that erupted in the Monsef area of Jbeil Wednesday afternoon.

Another fire broke out shortly afterward in the nearby village of Kfarsala in Amchit.

Schroder also stressed the need to reforest in the aftermath of the forest fires, suggesting that communities work with municipalities in order to plant in appropriate ways in reforested areas.

More than 35 percent of the forest cover in Lebanon has deteriorated over the last 40 years, leaving just 13 percent of Lebanon forested, according to local NGO the Association for Forests, Development and Conservation.


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