Massive forest fires rage in Syria, Lebanon, Israel. 2 dead

Forest fires in Syria this week have killed at least two people and burned swaths of land, state media reported.

Syrian state television on Saturday said hundreds of hectares had burned in the countryside of Syria’s coastal Latakia and Tartus provinces, and in the central Homs province.

The health ministry said two people died in Latakia province on Friday as a result of the fires, and that 70 people in the area were taken to hospital suffering from breathing difficulties.

Dozens of fires were burning, including “45 in Latakia and 33 in Tartus”, Syria’s Agriculture Minister Mohammed Hassan Qatana told a radio station on Friday.

“For the first time in its history, Syria is witnessing this [large] number of fires in a single day,” Qatana said.

The Latakia fire brigade said they were “facing the largest series of fires seen in Latakia province in years”.

The fires raging across Syria’s north, for the second time in months, were triggered by a heatwave that is unusual for this time of the year. They will likely cause considerable financial damage amid a deep economic crisis crippling the country.

Syria is currently suffering from an acute shortage in fuel ahead of the winter months, while power cuts have become more frequent across a country ravaged by more than nine years of war.

Among those affected by the devastating fires are landowners and farmers who rely on the agriculture sector to get by.

Meanwhile in neighbouring Lebanon, there have been more than 100 fires across the country since Thursday, according to George Abu Musa, head of operations for the country’s civil defence.

“The situation is crazy, there are fires everywhere,” Abu Musa told the AFP news agency. “We have mobilised 80 percent of our personnel and almost all our centres in Lebanon,” he said.

There have been no reports of casualties in Lebanon.

Military helicopters were assisting firefighters in “hard-to-reach” areas.

In Israel, firefighters and police forces evacuated 5,000 people as the fires spread for a second day on Saturday.