[Firefighters try to douse flames that engulfed a forest in Mount Lebanon (Photo: Haitham Moussawi)]
Firefighters on Monday were struggling to extinguish a massive blaze that engulfed a forest in a Mount Lebanon village on the outskirt of Beirut, state media and live television footage showed.
The fire burned through the Wadi al-Sit forest in the town of Betshay, and is encroaching on a residential neighborhood in Baabda, home to the presidential palace.
The army said it commissioned four helicopters to support civil defense battle the flames, but thick plumes of smoke and strong winds were hindering their efforts as the fire continued to spread.
Surrounding areas have been partially evacuated and schools closed after a number of residents fell unconscious due to smoke inhalation, according to Lebanon’s National News Agency.
Remon Khatar, head of the civil defense, said the cases of smoke inhalation were not critical, and that there were no other injuries in remarks to Al Manar Television.
He said that an investigation would take place after the fire was out to determine its cause.
Two women complained that it took two hours for civil defense forces to respond to the fire in a live interview with Al Jadeed TV from the scene.
“The fire started around 8:00 am, and the firefighters didn’t arrive till 10:10 am,” one of the women said. “What is going on?”
Temperatures shot up to 37 degrees Celsius (99 degrees Fahrenheit) in Beirut Tuesday following weeks of relatively cool weather.