Coming a little over a month after the deadly Aug.4 ammonium nitrate blast which destroyed Beirut's busy port and leveled entire neighborhoods in the surrounding downtown area, Thursday's fire reportedly centered on an oil and tire storage depot at the same location sent residents panicking as they thought they were in for a repeat of the earlier blast which left over 190 dead and more than 6,000 injured.
As of early Friday, Lebanese military and firefighting units have put out the blaze, but health organizations are now warning that the black smoke which thickly settled over the city is likely toxic.
Residents are being told to protect themselves, and avoid venturing outdoors until the fumes clear.
"Burning tires produce a lot of fine particulates, visible smoke and ash but also a lot of volatile organic pollutants that can be inhaled even outside the smoke plume," the environmental Greenpeace said, according to local media.
"The smoke can include highly toxic and carcinogenic compounds, black carbon and other particulates and acid gases," the statement warned.
The Beirut fire still not under control. The toxic fumes wrap around the city, 180 degrees, then head out to sea pic.twitter.com/tiCPv4Ldm5— Liz Sly (@LizSly) September 10, 2020
The Washington Post's Liz Sly also observed that "the toxic fumes wrap around the city, 180 degrees, then head out to sea."
Lebanese atmospheric chemistry specialist Najat Saliba is also warning residents that given continued storage of unknown chemicals in the port area, the air is now potentially dangerous.
Found at the port are explosives, highly corrosive hydrofluoric acid and "unknown" chemicals stored in open spaces without any high safety measures. Who is the person responsible and why did ministries of industry, environment and health allow this to happen? @khadditbeirut pic.twitter.com/nOLqxlRuBj— Najat A. Saliba (@najat_saliba) September 11, 2020
"To protect yourselves from smoke please close the windows facing the fire," Saliba warned on Twitter. "If you have no windows, leave the plastic up."
However, there are hopes that most of the plume has been blown out across the Mediterranean sea, and not toward the populous mainland.
The wind was north-south today meaning the high CO levels are observed south of the port. As explained by Captain Geha, this means the plume will be dissipated and directed towards the sea much faster. will keep you posted about the levels tomorrow. @CarmenGeha @khadditbeirut pic.twitter.com/PeJOh2Gx4q— Najat A. Saliba (@najat_saliba) September 10, 2020
This is the scene which already traumatized Lebanese woke up to yesterday:
LEBANON: A massive fire has broken out at the port of Beirut approximately a month after a huge explosion killed nearly 200 people. pic.twitter.com/tFNDJ3Bn5D— Conflict News (@Conflicts) September 10, 2020
Thousands of homes are still without windows after the Aug.4 blast and pressure wave ripped out entire walls, windows, and balconies.