BEIRUT — Amid a series of fires that have broken out in the grain silos of the Beirut port in recent days, caretaker Public Works Minister Ali Hamieh told L’Orient Today that he had ordered the Beirut port director to bar anyone — including rescue teams — from approaching the silos, adhering to regulations set by the Higher Defense Council. The decision, which has prevented response teams from extinguishing the blaze at the Beirut port grain silos, was taken for safety reasons, Hamieh said.
Here’s what we know:
• Three fires have erupted at the Beirut port grain silos in the past week, with the most recent one being on Tuesday evening. According to several local media outlets and Hamieh, the fire is caused by the fermentation of wheat that remains scattered in and around the silos.
• Hamieh told L’Orient Today that there are two options at hand. “One is to let the grains burn, and the second is to demolish the bottom part of the silos to empty and remove the wheat” that is exposed to the summer heat. “My question is, ‘Do I send the firefighters, with their inadequate equipment, to demolish the bottom of the silos so that it collapses on them?’ I would be committing a crime,” Hamieh said.
• In a report provided to Lebanese authorities and reviewed by L’Orient-Le Jour, engineer Emmanuel Durand had cautioned in April 2021 that the silos’ northern bloc of the Beirut port grain silos was heavily damaged and is at risk of collapse.
• Hamieh added that “all experts said that the northern part of the silos is prone to collapse,” pointing out that since the collapse of this section is inevitable in all cases, the fire should not be blamed for damages that it might cause. He also said that “whoever has a better solution, should come forward.”
• Hamieh’s spokesperson said that the ministry cannot disclose when the decision by the Higher Defense Council to prevent parties from approaching the silos was taken. A presidential palace source was not able to answer this question either.
• Responding to fears among residents of areas neighboring the port that the fires could lead to a repeat of Aug. 4, 2022, when a large amount of ammonium nitrate stored at the port exploded, causing more than 200 deaths, Hamieh said that there are no materials or chemicals other than wheat and corn near the silos.
• A representative of the Lebanese Civil Defense confirmed to L’Orient Today that a decision taken by the Public Works Ministry prevents them from approaching the silos. He added that they fear that dousing the silos with water to extinguish the fire might lead to the silos collapsing.