October 15, 2019 / 2:16 PM / a month ago

Lebanon deploys water cannon, helicopters to fight wildfires across country

Burned vehicles smoulder after wildfires swept through Damour, south of Beirut, Lebanon October 15, 2019. REUTERS/Mohamed Azakir

BEIRUT (Reuters) - Wildfires that have swept across Lebanon since Monday have burned swathes of the country’s forest and killed at least one person, prompting Beirut to deploy water cannon and call on its neighbors for help.

The cause of the flames, which has spread from woods south of Beirut up to pine forests in the north, remains unknown, though some officials have blamed an autumn heat wave that hit the country in recent days.

Lebanon’s Red Cross said that 18 people have so far been hospitalized and 88 have received emergency medical care.

The fires have left charred trees and burned-out cars and have overpowered Lebanon’s fire brigades, prompting appeals to neighboring states to send aircraft to bolster efforts.

A civil defense official said 104 fires had broken out over the past 24 hours, and that residents had been evacuated from homes and buildings to minimize the toll.

“The fire was so strong it did not leave anything. It did not leave any greens, any buildings, anything,” said Hussein Mcheik outside his home in the badly afflicted Mechref area south of Beirut.

Speaking to reporters in Mechref, Environment Minister Fadi Jreissati said at least one person had been killed. He called the situation “catastrophic”, adding: “Hopefully everyone helping will remain cautious...We still have two hard days ahead and the heat and wind will stay strong.”

Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri said an investigation would be opened and if arson were uncovered the perpetrators would “pay a price,” though he said the fires might be the result of climate change, which often brings weather drier and hotter than normal.

So far Cyprus has sent helicopters and Greece has agreed to offer two aircraft, Interior Minister Raya al-Hassan said. “We have contacted all the countries that can help us,” he said.

Reporting by Laila Bassam and Reuters TV; Writing by Eric Knecht; Editing by Mark Heinrich

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