Third fire within a week panics residents in central Beirut

BEIRUT: Firefighters in Lebanon’s capital said on Tuesday they put out a fire at a building under construction, in what was the third blaze to hit the city since a massive explosion at the port.
The building, located about 1.5 kilometres away from the city’s port in central Beirut, was designed by the renowned late British-Iraqi architect Zaha Hadid.
Footage shared on social media showed black clouds of smoke billowing off of bright red flames that climbed up the side of the curvaceous building with latticed covering.
AFP reporters at the scene saw firefighters use a crane to aim water hoses at its smouldering facade.
“What was on fire was the insulation that separates the outside from the inside” of the building, a civil defence officer said. “We were able in the fastest time possible to control” the blaze, he said.
It was not immediately clear what caused the fire.
The August 4 explosion at the port, one of the world’s largest non-nuclear blasts ever, killed 190 people, wounded thousands and ravaged building windows and doors in large parts of the city. It was followed by a small fire on Tuesday last week at the port and another huge fire on Thursday at a port warehouse where food aid was stored.
Both the explosion and port fires have revived popular outrage against a political class accused of being inept, corrupt and unable to ensure public safety. Preliminary government findings said sparks from a power saw could have caused Thursday’s blaze, echoing a theory that welding was also behind the August 4 explosion.
On Tuesday, local social media users speculated the cause of the new fire could also be welding.
Theatre director Yahya Jaber on Facebook expressed alarm at what he described as “Beirut’s pre-imagined, pre-designed and pre-welded assassination”.
Hadid, who died in 2016 at age 65, was famed for her architectural works of sweeping curves in countries around the world.
She was the first woman to win the prestigious Pritzker Prize for architecture, and best known for her designs for the Guangzhou Opera House in China and the aquatics centre used in the 2012 London Olympics.
“It’s terrible. It’s unbelievable,” said Joe Sayegh, 48, who had been on a jog through the city before coming to the scene. “Every day we have a problem.” Fire trucks quickly doused the flames that charred a corner of the futuristic building designed by the practice set up by the late Zaha Hadid, the renowned British-Iraqi architect.
The building near the seafront which has been under construction for years and its curved lines have become a prominent feature of the central commercial area rebuilt from the 1975-1990 civil war.
During the reconstruction, skyscrapers designed by international architects have gone up and historical Ottoman-era buildings have been renovated. But protests during an economic crisis that was caused by a mountain of debt had already driven many businesses out of the city centre and left many buildings scarred, before the August 4 port blast ruined another swathe of the capital. The government resigned after the port blast, which was blamed on highly explosive ammonium nitrate kept in poor storage conditions for years.
This month, a big port fire flared up among the ruined warehouses, adding to the devastation. France is pressing Lebanon to form a new government to tackle endemic corruption and implement reforms to unlock aid. But many Lebanese remain sceptical that Lebanon’s political elite can chart a new course. “With these people, if they are the same people, nothing will change,” Sayegh said. — Reuters