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. Swathes of forest lost forever to Lebanon fires
BEIRUT, Oct 3 (AFP) Oct 03, 2007
Large swathes of woodland have been destroyed in fires that swept through several regions of Lebanon, leaving one woman dead and dozens injured, officials said on Wednesday.

More than 2,000 hectares (5,000 acres) of forest were lost, much of it without any possibility of regeneration, the officials said.

"These are the worst fires to hit the country in the last decade," a civil defence official who did not want to be identified told AFP.

He said firefighters had managed to control most of the blazes but were still battling a small fire on Wednesday in the far north of the country, between the villages of Qobeyyat and Andaqt.

Italy, Cyprus and Jordan were meanwhile dispatching helicopters to help firefighters battle any new blazes.

Monir Bou Ghanem, head of the Association for Forest Development and Conservation, said one woman from the Deir al-Qamar region, in the Shouf mountains, died from smoke inhalation on Tuesday.

About 50 people, many of them volunteers from his agency, had also been treated for minor respiratory problems.

Bou Ghanem warned that the simmering ashes could reignite depending on wind conditions and brushed aside claims that the fires were started deliberately.

"The direct cause is negligence, not criminal," he told AFP. "Negligence in the sense that people start small fires to clean their land or something like that."

He added that unless the government took the issue seriously and set up a centralized forest agency, such ecological disasters were bound to happen each year.

"October and November are the most dangerous months here for fires because the land is neglected and with drought the bio mass becomes a dangerous fire fuse."

He said many of the forests destroyed by the flames were lost forever.

"A pine forest that burns down twice within a period of 10 years cannot produce any more cones and we lose these forests forever and we have quite big forests like that that were destroyed yesterday," Bou Ghanem said.

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