Massive wildfire sets Lebanon ablaze

Danny Panken, Contributor

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(Redwoods, California/ Jay Sullivan)

Some of the worst wildfires in Lebanon’s history are currently raging in the southern coastal section of the country, specifically in the wooded Chouf region. Officials are saying these devasting wildfires are caused by the unusually high temperatures and strong winds that have been hitting the country over the past couple weeks.

Lebanon is not the only place suffering from wildfires this dry season. The Amazon rainforest, which produced 20% of the Earth’s oxygen, has been particularly devastated. So far it is estimated that around 2.25 million acres have burned while more of the rainforest is still in danger. Along with the wildfires, deforestation is a massive problem affecting the Amazon, with an 80% increase compared to last year which Brazil’s National Institute for Space Research reported.

Vast areas of Siberia have also been destroyed by this year’s wildfires. According to the Russian News Agency who reported on the wildfires, at the end of August the fires spread an estimated 6.4 million acres in total. Thankfully many of these forest fires are not in any danger to human settlements, and therefore the Russian government will most likely wait for natural causes to put out such fires.

Red Cross workers stationed in Lebanon report 88 people have received emergency medical care while 18 have been hospitalized. There has been one confirmed death of a firefighter so far.

George Mitri, the director of the Land and Natural Resources Program at Lebanon’s University of Balamand and an expert of forest fires, spoke about the wildfires in an interviewed with Vox, saying, “We shouldn’t be surprised – no one was prepared for this.”

We shouldn’t be surprised – no one was prepared for this”

— George Mitri

So far, an estimated 3,700 acres have burned forcing thousands of people to flee their homes south of Beirut. The heatwave that swept Lebanon before the fires was hot enough to draw concern from Professor Mitri, as the temperatures recorded in October this year are several degrees higher than the maximum temperatures previously recorded for October. Mitri says he had issued several warnings about an increased risk of forest fires since the start of the dry season in June .

Some blame should be placed on the Lebanese government, who took no precautions to address these warnings. For example, no actions were taken for the prevention of fires, and there was no implementation of any forest management techniques. Mitri further explained how ill-equipped the Lebanese firefighters are in their inability to completely put out some forest fires even after rainfall in the area.

Nearby countries such as Cyprus and Greece have given aid to the unprepared Lebanese government in the form of planes. The aid comes at the perfect time, as some fires have been raging for multiple days in the cities just south of Beirut where the planes will be put to use quickly.

These wildfires come at the same time as civil unrest which is sweeping the small country due to rampant corruption. The protests sprang up as the government tried to levy new taxes on WhatsApp calls and similar popular messaging services. In the streets of Beirut and in other large cities around the country, protesters showed out in force, chanting of revolution and a fall to the corrupt regime, similar to the Arab spring in 2011.

The people of Lebanon will continue their protests in hopes of fixing their economic woes with a complete change in government. Reporters on the ground in Beirut say the people have completely lost faith in the government, and a radical solution will be the only way to settle the increasing civil unrest gripping the country.