Lebanon News

Forest fire forecasting system goes live across country

A civil Defense truck arrives at the site of the fire in Ouzai (Photo by Mahmoud KheiThe Daily Star)

BEIRUT: The Civil Defense Department said a new computer system that was installed Monday in their Beirut headquarters could help minimize the disastrous forest fire seasons that often ravage the countryside during the fall and summer.

The software that powers the control room is a forecasting program that is intended to help Lebanese respond better to forest fire outbreaks. After a trial run in the Chouf Cedar Reserve starting in 2009, the system now covers the whole country.

Units from the Lebanese Civil Defense are now trying out the system with a two-day exercise Monday and Tuesday, testing their response to the outbreak of a mock fire.

Franco Siccardi, president of CIMA, the organization that funded the fire forecast system, said the system’s broad use of information provides “enrichment for our knowledge of how our environment works.”

While the system doesn’t increase firefighters’ capacity to put out fires, officials say it will help them pinpoint at-risk areas before fires break out and then respond to the worst affected areas after fires have started burning.

The fire predicting system uses information from 48 weather stations in Lebanon in addition to databases on local vegetation and geography, which give assessments on a local level of how fast fires can spread and areas likely to catch flame.

The system was developed in Italy in 2003, and is currently being tested for other European nations.

Lebanese officials also announced Monday that Italy has contributed 1 million euros ($1.32 million) to Lebanon to purchase around 10 fire trucks to help in the firefighting efforts.

Lebanese civil defense authorities said the department is getting ready to purchase the new fire trucks, particularly four-wheel drive high-clearance trucks to access hard to reach areas.

Fast burning and widespread fires destroyed large tracts of forest in Lebanon in 2010 and 2008.

Failure to put out the fires quickly last year led Lebanese officials to call for increased capacity and better planning for firefighting.

The Italian government is taking steps to help Lebanon by setting up a new fire forecasting system in the country and contributing funds for new fire trucks, a statement by the Italian Embassy in Beirut said.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on December 13, 2011, on page 3.

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