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Situation Report: Lebanon’s Sweeping Fires

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Raging Forest Fires in Lebanon: How and Why?

Forests are the lungs of the earth and they play a vital role in the absorption of harmful gases and the release of pure oxygen. In addition to this key importance, they:

  1. Help in climate moderation
  2. Help in soil compaction and prevent erosion or degradation.
  3. Act as a natural defense against floods.
  4. Contribute to the activation of the environmental livestock that controls balance in nature.
  5. Are some of the most comfortable and relaxing areas for leisure and tourism.
  6. Revitalize the soil, prevent sunlight from reaching it and dust from spreading.

The annual fire rate of forest and land fires in Lebanon is up to 10 million square meters and may reach up to 13 million square meters. In 1965, forests covered 35% of the area of Lebanon while non-forest green areas reached 10 %.

  • 57% of forest and plant cover with broad-leaved trees like oaks, including Mount Tabor oaks.
  • 31% conifers.
  • 12% other broad-leaved trees

So, Why Do Fires Happen in Lebanon?

Usually, fires erupt after long summers, yet at a lower level. At that time of the year, trees would have their lower branches dried while the top branches have grown and increased in greenness. Meanwhile, all the plant cover that grew in spring would be dry and the sun has vaporized any water or remaining greenery. Each mid-October of every year, a heatwave reaches Lebanon and lasts for almost 30. During this period, high-pressure winds from the southern desert areas especially Egypt and the Arabian Peninsula blow in Lebanon and is locally called, the 40s or 50s wind and are loaded
with 3 factors that cause a fire to break out and extend:

  • High Temperatures

    The temperature may vary between 38 and 40 degrees Celsius, which is rarely reached in a moderate Mediterranean climate countries like Lebanon.

  • Drought

    Drought aids fires and vaporizes water (dew) that usually accumulates on the branches and the plant cover during the night. Dew prevents fires to break out and its evaporation can make grass great fuel for fires.

  • High-Pressure Winds

    The high-pressure winds help in spread flames between trees and grass, which does not usually happen in summer.

These three natural factors do not cause fire by themselves as they need a little flame that will force fires to spread and increase in a short period of time.

Such a flame can be caused by several factors:

  • Bottles

    Bottles that people throw during picnics and hiking outings during summer including liquor bottles which causes the fermentation of substances inside them.

  • Glass

    Thrown glass directly absorbs light, refracts the rays and brings them to a tight focus that can cause a fire.

  • Slash and Burn Agriculture

    Many farmers use this method of growing food in which forested land is clear cut and any remaining vegetation burned. The resulting layer of ash provides the newly-cleared land with a nutrient-rich layer to help fertilize crops. The danger in this method lies in improper extinguishing of fires which allows high-pressure winds to re-burn the extinguished grass again and allow it to spread from one field to another.

  • Cutting Down Trees

    Cutting down trees and turning them to coal before the rainy season may cause coal to burn again after its extinguishment when it comes in contact with the high-pressure wind.

  • Cigarettes

    Cigarettes that are thrown on the ground and the burning coals used for Hookah -"Sheesha" during picnics are two of the main factors of such fires.

We can’t also ignore some of the factors that cause a fire even though they are usually excluded:
  1. Retaliation acts that aim at ruining the properties of some individuals or groups.
  2. Some major projects that collide with tree cutting prevention laws, this can be a great opportunity to get rid of trees and accelerate the process of building their projects at the lowest cost.
  3. Burning of dumpsters especially the ones that are located in villages.
  4. Fireworks falling on the ground and setting off dry flammable materials.
  5. Campfires and bonfires in nature.

The Latest Fires in Lebanon

Over the past few days, Lebanon fell under the impact of a heatwave that started on Sunday and continued with temperatures above its usual seasonal rates, hence reaching 38 degrees Celcius on Monday. High temperatures have led to various fires throughout Lebanon from north to south. The wind has contributed to the spread of fire and the destruction of several forest areas.

The fires spread over thousands of acres in a matter of hours reaching a number of residential buildings near the forests; high-pressure winds have lead wildfires to burn out of control.

The Lebanese Red Cross announced in a statement that it performed first aid at the field hospital in Damour: 72 first aid cases in place, 4 cases in Meshref area, 6 cases in Al Naameh area, 4 cases in Dibbieh area, 2 cases in Zikrit area, making it a total of 88 cases.

One case was transferred to Labib Abu Daher Hospital in Saida, 2 cases to Saint Charles hospital in Hazmieh area, and 7 cases to Serhal hospital in Al Rabieh area; a total of 18 cases, most of whom were suffering from health conditions including shortness of breath, suffocation, blackouts and minor burns. The Lebanese red cross teams are still ready to provide humanitarian services when needed and they are receiving calls on the free emergency line:140. On the second day of this environmental crisis, the youth Salim Abu Mujahid passed away due to a heart attack while he was helping firemen in extinguishing the fires; he was immediately transferred to Saint Charles Hospital.

Prevention Factors:

  1. Issue laws to prevent the previously mentioned causes of fire and stressing the need for punishing violators, mainly farmers who use the slash and burn agriculture method, individuals who throw waste into the forests and those who cut trees and turn it to coals.

  2. Activate the work of forest rangers.

  3. Setup dust roads between the forests to facilitate the entry of firefighters.

  4. Prune forest trees in summer and remove all removed branches.

  5. Prevent setting up a fire unless it is at least 200 meters away from the forests.

  6. Raise awareness about environmental education in society, schools, universities, and places of worship.

  7. Encourage voluntary projects to preserve the environment such as cleaning campaigns, tree pruning campaigns, and afforestation campaigns.

  8. Prevent cutting trees and activate penalties on the people involved.

  9. Prevent establishing factories and limestone quarries in forests and urban projects.

  10. Prepare appropriate supplies for firefighters including an integrated system, firefighting planes, and large pumps to use when there is fire.

  11. Prevent smoking outdoors and near trees or grass, create smoking rooms across the country and activate penalties on smokers.

Requirements

The Union of Relief and Development Associations in Lebanon proposes the requirements below to prevent fires:

First: Facing fire in forests

  1. A permanent budget to the fire season that begins from June until December, whilst October and November are considered as the serious fire seasons.
  2. Cold Food parcels or a hot family meal for 25$ x 500 = $12,500.
  3. Water and food for members of the Civil Defense, firefighters, and volunteers 5 x 1000 = $5000(for several days).
  4. Provide 10 fire trucks that can be granted by the Ministry of Interior to forests in the villages and municipalities.
  5. Distribute leaflets and printouts about the wildfire hazards and ways of protecting the forests $5000.
  6. Reforestation for all burned regions 5000 tree x $10 =$50, 000.
  7. Monthly care and attention for 2 years x 24 months = $48 000 representing the staff’s income ($500 per person + food and medication expenses).

Second: Confronting fires in the Syrian refugee camps

  1. Buy firefighters used to extinguish fires in camps (a large firefighter for every camp, with wheels and water hose) $500 per each.
  2. The number of suggested camps 150 camps = $75,000.