Fire erupts in Beirut Port area, following massive blast last month

Written by on September 10, 2020

Stores of oil and tires were what caught fire, according to a source in the Lebanese military.

By REUTERS
 

SEPTEMBER 10, 2020 16:57

Smoke rises over Beirut's port area as seen from Sin-el-fil, Lebanon September 10, 2020. (photo credit: CYNTHIA KARAM/REUTERS)

Smoke rises over Beirut’s port area as seen from Sin-el-fil, Lebanon September 10, 2020.

(photo credit: CYNTHIA KARAM/REUTERS)

A large fire erupted on Thursday at Beirut Port, sending a huge column of smoke above the city a little more than a month after a massive blast devastated the port and surrounding residential area of the Lebanese capital.

The blaze erupted in the shattered duty-free zone of the port, and one official said it was limited to that area.

But it jangled nerves in a nation grappling with a deep economic crisis that has posed the biggest threat to Lebanon’s stability since its 1975-1990 civil war.

“For sure we were scared, it’s only been a month since the explosion that destroyed Beirut. We saw the same thing happening again,” said 53-year-old Andre Muarbes.

A military source said early indications suggested the blaze started when cooking oil in the port area caught fire and spread to stores of tires. At one point, live television footage showed flames licking up near a pile of tires in a smashed warehouse.

Army helicopters dropped water on the fire, as firefighters battled the blaze on the ground.

The head of civil defense told Lebanon’s AlJadeed television it was not certain what materials were burning. But he urged residents to stay calm, saying the fire was contained to one place.

There were no immediate reports of injuries but some residents drove out of the city, still traumatized by the August 4 blast that killed about 190 people.

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 “I am forced to get them out of Beirut from the smoke and the fire that is happening at the port again,” said Majed Hassanein, 49, who was taking his wife and two children by car.

He said his son was still suffering shock from the blast that ruined a swathe of capital near the port and shattered windows across the city. About 6,000 people were injured in the explosion and about 300,000 left without inhabitable homes.

The head of Lebanon’s Red Cross, George Kettaneh, said there was no fear of another explosion as a result of Thursday’s fire and there were no injuries, although he said there were some people suffering from shortness of breath as a result.

The public prosecutor ordered an immediate investigation into the blaze. Many Lebanese are frustrated that they have not been told about any initial findings from an investigation into the port blast, more than a month after it ripped through Beirut.

Carmen Geha, an activist and associate professor at the American University of Beirut, said the fire was further proof of mismanagement by a ruling elite, who have dragged the nation into crisis after years of corruption and poor governance.

“It’s a gross crime, gross negligence and gross arrogance,” she said. “You can’t trust them to manage anything.”

Firefighters were shown in television footage dousing the port fire surrounded by mangled remains of warehouses destroyed in last month’s explosion, which was caused by a store of ammonium nitrate that had been kept in poor condition at the port for years.

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