The municipality of a certain village was forced to call the fire department this week for a fire lit by its own staff. Luckily the firefighters were able to put it out before the blaze spread to the surrounding brush and caught half the mountainside on fire.

It all started when a member of the municipal police–who was supervising road works– decided to start a fire to clear the brush.

“We started the fire,” the policeman said nonchalantly with a cigar in hand, when asked. “It’s nothing,” he added as he continued to supervise roadworks, with the firetruck in the background.

The policeman–who wasn’t wearing any uniform–went on to blame the neighbors for the fire he started. “It’s their fault,” he added. “They let all the brush grow–they throw the garbage from their gardens here.”

When asked why the municipality doesn’t bring a truck to clear the brush instead of burning it–so as to prevent a big fire and a column of smoke in the air polluting the entire neighborhood–he smiled. “If you think this is a big fire, what are you going to say when you see a real big fire?”

Thanks to the boys at the fire department and the speed of their response, we didn’t get to see one. “This happens all the time,” the senior fireman said shaking his head, when asked if his mens’ time is often wasted by people setting their own fires to “clear garbage.”

We were also lucky that it wasn’t a windy day. Otherwise the flames could have easily spread to the dense green hillside just behind it, which is full of bone dry shrubs and connected to a beautiful pine forest in the valley.

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Habib Battah
Habib Battah is an investigative journalist and founder of the news site Battah has covered Lebanon and the Middle East for over 15 years and teaches journalism and media studies at the American University of Beirut. He is a contributor to Monocle, The Guardian, BBC World, Al Jazeera and others, a former fellow at the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism at Oxford University and two-time recipient of the Samir Kassir Press Freedom Award. Battah's investigative work was recently recognized for outstanding local reporting by the Columbia University Oakes Award for Environmental Reporting. Battah earned a B.A. in Journalism from the University of Texas at Austin and an M.A. in Near East Studies and Journalism from New York University.



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