Wildfires spread through parts of Lebanon on Tuesday after forcing some residents to flee their homes in the middle of the night, while others were stuck inside as the flames reached villages south of Beirut, authorities said.
A heat wave in the region coupled with strong winds intensified the fires that began a day earlier in mostly pine forests around the country and three provinces in neighboring Syria. There were no reports of fatalities from the fires — among the worst to hit Lebanon in years.
Fire crews were overwhelmed by the flames in the Mount Lebanon region early Tuesday, forcing the Interior Ministry to send riot police with engines equipped with water cannons to help. Two small aircraft were sent from the nearby Mediterranean island of Cyprus to help put out the flames.
"Your planes are now fighting fires in Lebanon as we speak here," Lebanon's Defense Minister Elias Bou Saab said during a visit to Cyprus.
Lebanon's Prime Minister Saad Hariri said if the fires turn out to be intentional those behind it "will pay a price." Hariri added that an investigation will be opened to know what caused the fires.
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In Damour, a coastal village south of Beirut, more than a dozen charred cars could be seen on the side of a road. Most of the homes nearby escaped the damage.
The state has been widely criticized by residents because Lebanon bought three aircraft several years ago to be used in extinguishing fires but they have been parked at Beirut's airport with no money to maintain them.
As the fires raged overnight, a correspondent burst into tears while live on TV, saying she could hear people scream for help inside their homes but no one could reach them.
Interior Minister Raya El Hassan said Greece would send two aircraft in response to a request from Lebanon, adding that Jordan has also expressed readiness to send assistance to Beirut.
By Tuesday afternoon, some minor fires were reported amid fears that they might spread again.
In neighboring Syria, fires spread in the coastal provinces of Latakia and Tartus, as well as the central province of Homs, but authorities there brought all the fires under control.