'Gigantic' bushfire threatening lives in north Lebanon, Red Cross says

Sixteen teams of about 50 to 60 people each from the agency are trying to evacuate villages

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A “gigantic” fire engulfed forest areas in north Lebanon on Wednesday and is threatening the lives of villagers, the Red Cross said.

Summer bushfires are common in Lebanon, endangering people, communities, and the ecology of one the Arab world’s most verdant countries.

“It’s a gigantic fire that is surrounding all the houses in Qoubaiyat,” a Red Cross representative told The National.

Sixteen teams of about 50 to 60 people each from the agency are trying to evacuate villages.

“The fire is big and spreading fast,” the representative said. “We are moving people, including women and the elderly, from their houses.”

The Red Cross said it took five people to hospital and moved 17 from their homes.

A military helicopter took off from an airbase near the capital, Beirut, to Qoubaiyat on the Syria border, to help fight the fire, the National News Agency said.

The bushfire spread across the hills of Qoubaiyat, burning land including 20,000 square metres of olive groves and oak trees in the village of Beino.

Firefighters in a fleet of 18 lorries rushed to Qoubaiyat on Wednesday from Beirut and Akkar, the closest town.

“We can say that 60 per cent of the fire is under control,” a civil defence representative in Beirut said. "We are hoping to totally stop the fire this evening."

Cash-strapped Lebanese authorities have for years relied on volunteers from the Red Cross and the civil defence to contain bushfires.

Footage of the flames engulfing large swathes of forest and edging close to buildings circulated on social media.

The hashtags “Save Qoubaiyat” and “Qoubaiyat” were among the top trending in Lebanon on Wednesday.

In the summer of 2019, video of a journalist crying while she reported on bushfires in Lebanon stirred anger about the state’s inability to protect residents from fires and preserve the environment.

The fires were a factor in the anti-government protests in October 2019 against corruption, poor living conditions and the country’s sectarian political system.

News that Lebanese authorities could not dispatch two helicopters to the scene because of poor maintenance caused further outrage.

Updated: July 29, 2021, 9:36 AM