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Huge fire breaks out at Beirut port a month after devastating explosion

A huge fire broke out at the Port of Beirut on Thursday, triggering panic among residents traumatized by last month's massive explosion there that killed and injured thousands of people.

It was not immediately clear what caused the fire at the facility, which was decimated by the August 4 explosion when nearly 3,000 tons of ammonium nitrate detonated, triggering a shock wave explosion. More than 190 people were injured in that blast, which injured around 6,500 others and devastated entire neighborhoods in the Lebanese capital.

Dark smoke covered the capital on Thursday as army helicopters sprayed water over the orange flames leaping from the ground.

The Lebanese army said the fire started in the port's duty free zone at a warehouse with containers of tires, oil and other flammable materials.

Fire Breaks Out At Beirut Port, Site Of Last Month's Deadly Blast
Smoke rises from a fire that broke out at the Beirut Port on September 10, 2020 in Beirut, Lebanon.  Sam Tarling/Getty Images

Port director Bassem al-Qaisi told Voice of Lebanon radio the fire started in a warehouse where barrels of cooking oil were placed and later spread nearby to where tires were piled. 

"It is too early to know if it is the result of heat or some other mistake," al-Qaissi said adding that the black smoke was from burning tires. 

There was speculation in Beirut that the fire could be an attempt to destroy evidence from the explosion last month that is blamed on government negligence and mismanagement.

Panicked residents cracked open windows and called and texted each other to warn them of the new danger. Local TV stations said companies that have offices near the port asked employees to leave the area.  

Some hid in bathrooms, while others dropped what they were doing and rushed home.

"We opened all windows and are in the corridor right now," said Dana Awad, a mother of two girls in a Beirut neighborhood, recalling the tremor that preceded the earlier explosion. "I am still feeling the earth shake. Living a flashback."

A video on social media showed port employees running in fear from the fire, a chilling reminder of the dozens of workers and 10 firefighters who were killed in the early August blast. Lebanese troops closed the major road near the port, rerouting traffic to other areas.  

The panic was compounded by the fear that more chemicals could be in the wreckage of the port. Earlier this month, the army said it discovered more than 4 tons of ammonium nitrate in four containers stored near the port that it said were "dealt with."

French and Italian chemical experts working amid the remains of the port identified more than 20 containers of dangerous chemicals. The army later said these containers were moved and stored safely away from the port.

Beirut Governor Marwan Abboud and authorities urged people to stay away from roads leading to the port to allow firefighters to move quickly.

It was the second fire at the port this week. On Tuesday, a small fire also created some panic, but it was quickly extinguished.

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