Lebanon has launched an investigation into a huge fire at a warehouse storing aid that erupted in the port of Beirut – one month after a massive explosion there killed more than 190 people.
The blaze broke out where an aid agency had been storing food and cooking oil.
Firefighters and military officials spent hours battling the fire, using helicopters to drop water on it, before getting it under control on Thursday.
No injuries were reported and the cause of the fire is not yet known.
Footage shared on social media showed port workers running away as the fire broke out at the duty-free zone in the port on Thursday. The blaze sent a plume of dark smoke over the Lebanese capital.
The head of Lebanon’s Red Cross, George Kettaneh, said some people were suffering from shortness of breath, but there were no reports of injuries.
Red Cross Regional Director Fabrizio Carboni said the warehouse stocked thousands of food parcels.
He added that the humanitarian operation is at
risk of serious disruption.
The area around the fire was cordoned off to prevent it from spreading. Civil defence director general Raymond Khattar told the state-run National News Agency that those working to extinguish the fire would not leave “until the flames are fully quenched.”
By the evening, officials said most flames had been extinguished.
The fire broke out just over a month after a huge explosion in the Lebanese capital, which was caused by 2,750 tonnes of ammonium nitrate detonating at a warehouse in the port.
In addition to the fatalities, thousands were injured and as many as 300,000 left homeless by the 4 August explosion.
Despite assurances from officials on Thursday that the situation was under control, some residents, still traumatised by last month’s explosion, drove out of the city.
“I am forced to get them out of Beirut from the smoke and the fire that is happening at the port again,” Majed Hassanein, who was leaving with his wife and children, told Reuters news agency.
Others described how the fire brought back memories of the explosion.
“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.
What do we know about the cause of the fire?
The Lebanese army announced in a tweet on Thursday that military police had begun an investigation into the blaze.
Port director Bassem al-Qaisi earlier told the Voice of Lebanon radio station that the fire started in a warehouse where barrels of cooking oil were being stored, and then spread to tyres nearby.
“It is too early to know if it is the result of heat or some other mistake,” he said.
Michel Najjar, the public works minister with the outgoing government, told local media outlets that initial indications suggested the blaze was started by repair work at the port.
But he said full details on what happened would not be clear until a “comprehensive study” had been completed.
In a meeting with top officials on Thursday, President Michel Aoun said the fire could have been the result of sabotage, a technical error or negligence.
“In all cases, the cause must be known as soon as possible and the perpetrators held to account,” Mr Aoun was quoted as saying by the presidential Twitter account.