Beirut, Lebanon – A towering inferno at Beirut’s port has caused widespread panic in the Lebanese capital, just two days after another fire was put out at the site of an enormous explosion that killed nearly 200 people last month.
The Lebanese army said on Thursday the blaze erupted at a warehouse storing oils and tyres in the port’s Duty Free area.
A witness told Al Jazeera she saw people running in the opposite direction of the fire, which sent a large plume of smoke into the sky.
She also saw cars reversing in the Mar Mikhael neighbourhood, which was devastated by the August 4 explosion that wounded more than 6,500 people and left hundreds of thousands homeless.
A security source told Al Jazeera that the fire broke out in a storage area used by BCC Logistics. The source added that the fire was outside the “red zone” central to the blast investigation, in an area of the port that has since resumed operations.
At the time of the fir breaking out, work was being done to remove goods stored in damaged warehouses and reconstruction work was also underway, the source added.
Several workers told local media that there had been clearance efforts under way inside the warehouse to remove debris from last month’s explosion, at which point the fire caught hold.
As was the case with the August disaster, firefighters arrived on the scene without being informed of exactly what was on fire -though “we didn’t go in blind,” Lieutenant Michel Murr, who oversees firefighting efforts in Beirut, told Al Jazeera.
Ten firefighters were killed on August 4 after being sent to extinguish the fire caused by the explosion of 2,750 tonnes of ammonium nitrate stored at the port.
Murr said he could not entirely rule out the presence of explosive material in the area, but said it was unlikely.
“We’re being as careful as we can be given the situation,” Murr added, noting that there were no injuries resulting from the fire.
He said they were working to “contain” the fire but had not yet been able to control it as of 2:30pm (11:30 GMT). Army helicopters were brought in to assist in the efforts.
Top prosecutor Ghassan Oueidat has tasked all major security agencies with carrying out an investigation into the cause of the fire after being ordered to do so by the country’s Caretaker Justice Minister Marie Claude Najem.
A smaller fire had caught at Beirut’s port on Tuesday, leading many to panic, though it was extinguished soon afterwards. Just a few days before that, the army said it had found 4.35 tonnes of ammonium nitrate at Beirut’s port. It says it has since destroyed the explosive material.
An army source told Al Jazeera that security forces were in the process of undertaking a complete survey of the entire port area, but could not say how much had been completed and when the survey would be done.
“The amount of work and the area involved is massive,” he said.