SIDON, Lebanon: A huge fire that erupted in Sidon’s landfill early Thursday, forcing a shutdown of the industrial sector of the southern city and blanketing the area with thick plumes of smoke and toxic fumes, will require at least 48 hours to extinguish, a source at the Civil Defense Department said.
The source, who spoke to The Daily Star on condition of anonymity, said Civil Defense teams and the Sidon Fire Department had drawn up a plan to put out the fire, which broke out at 4 a.m.
“We need 48 hours to do the job,” the source said, explaining that the situation is complicated by the fact that the landfill, teeming with waste of all kinds, is difficult to access.
The plan, which stipulates that firefighters use both a pressurized mix of foam and water as well as sand to extinguish the fire, was made public shortly after a Lebanese Army helicopter that was called in for help left, having assisted in preventing the blaze from spreading beyond the confines of the landfill.
A thick blanket of smoke and haze settled over the city and surrounding areas, prompting Sidon hospitals to urge firefighters to boost their efforts to extinguish the fire.
Some 30 Sidon-based firefighters, backed by 10 local volunteers and seven fire trucks, were still battling the fire nine hours after it ignited.
Sidon’s industrial sector shut down after the sky was covered with smoke rising from the fire in the nearby waste dump.
Due to the fog resulting from the smoke, motorists were urged to turn on their vehicles’ hazard lights when driving along the stretch of the coastal highway parallel to the fire.
It was the fourth blaze in Sidon’s landfill in as many weeks. Police have yet to launch a probe to determine the circumstances behind the fires.
A huge blaze that broke out in the landfill on Aug. 17 was extinguished only with the intervention of a Lebanese Army helicopter. A smaller fire a few days later was quickly contained and put out.
A large fire erupted at the landfill Monday, but firefighters managed to douse it a few hours later.
Sources at Sidon’s municipality told The Daily Star at the time that they feared the fire was the result of arson. They said two scavengers sifting through trash hours before the fire broke out that day were later briefly questioned by Sidon’s City Hall police but released due to lack of evidence.
The same sources insisted Thursday that the fires are deliberate.
The landfill, which has been used as a site for the disposal of waste material for years, measures approximately 30 meters in height, and reportedly contains about 500,000 bottles.
Meanwhile, Sheikh Ahmad Assir said he was organizing a sit-in to protest the "burning" of the landfill. The firebrand Sunni preacher called on his supporters and local residents to take part in a rally scheduled for 5 p.m. Thursday at Sidon's main Nejmeh Square, where the City Hall is located.