Flames from forest fire in Ras el-Harf village, in the Baabda district, Lebanon: An aerial picture.
Hundreds of massive wildfires ravaged parts of the Middle East over the weekend, forcing thousands to flee their homes. The wildfires triggered by a heat wave hitting the region have killed three people, and detonated landmines along the Lebanon-Israel border.
The areas hit by the heat wave are Syria, Lebanon, Israel and the Palestinian territories.
The fires come amid an intense heat wave that is unusual for this time of the year.
Media reports from the Middle East said:
In Syria, the hardest-hit country, three people were killed according to the Syrian health ministry.
On Friday, the first day of the renewed fires, 70 people in Latakia province alone had been taken to the hospital with breathing difficulties.
The fires continued to spread across the west coast of the country over the weekend, but were brought under control on Sunday.
Mohammed Hassan Qatana, Syria’s health minister, told a local radio station on Friday that the fires were the worst in Syria’s history.
The wildfires also burnt wide areas of forests, mostly in the central province of Homs and the coastal province of Latakia.
With fire fighters overwhelmed, some residents helped them using primitive methods such as carrying water in buckets and pouring them on the fire.
On Saturday, special rain prayers were held in mosques around different parts of Syria imploring God to send rain to ease drought and stop the fires.
Director of the Forestry Department in Latakia Agricultural Department, Bassem Douba, was quoted as saying by state news agency, SANA, that the number of fires reached 85 in different sites.
Also in Latakia province, fires in President Bashar Assad’s hometown of Qardaha heavily damaged a building used as a storage for the state-owned tobacco company, part of which collapsed.
In neighboring crisis-hit Lebanon, firefighters were tackling blazes in the north, centre and south of the country, backed up by military helicopters.
Fires in villages in the south of the country triggered the explosions of land mines along the border with Israel.
Firefighters backed by army helicopters fought the wildfires.
A big fire in the southern village of Bater burnt hundreds of pine trees and was getting close to homes when it was put under control.
Along the border with Israel, fires were reported by Lebanon’s state news agency in several villages, some of them triggering explosions of land mines placed along the heavily guarded front.
In Israel’s north, more than 5,000 residents were evacuated from their homes in the city of Nof Hagalil as the fires spread across Israel and the occupied West Bank.
The cause of the hundreds of fires remains unknown but the spread will have been facilitated by high temperatures and winds.
The wildfires spread across different areas of Israel and the West Bank for a second day Saturday, forced thousands of people to evacuate their homes.
Syria, Lebanon and Israel are each facing severe economic crises that hinder their ability to tackle the raging forest fires.
In 2019, Lebanon faced its worst bushfire season in decades with more than 1200 hectares of forest destroyed in just three days. The volunteer-led civil defense teams that fight the fires are under-equipped and under-resourced.
As more than 100 fires ravaged the country last year, three of the firefighting Sikorsky S-70 helicopters were unable to be used as the government had not maintained them. Just days later the mass anti-government protest movement broke out that rocked the country for months and saw Prime Minister Saad Hariri step down.
This June, as temperatures began to creep up in time for wildfire season, the government approved a request from the defense ministry to sell the helicopters. By October, more than 100 wildfires were spreading again.