Damour/Meshref, Lebanon – As the towering walls of flames bore down towards her neighbourhood, a rush of ominous memories overcame Mona Khoury.
“We remembered the days of the war,” the 78-year-old says, leaning against the off-white wall of her ground-floor apartment in the coastal town of Damour, south of Lebanon’s capital, Beirut.
“The world was burning, the church bells were ringing. We left as quickly as we could and saw that others were also running away,” she adds of her escape from the massive blaze that swept down the mountain behind the town overnight Monday.
“It was just like it was back then,” she says referring to 1976, the second year of Lebanon’s 15-year civil war when militias attacked Khoury’s hometown, leading to a mass exodus of the local population.
She left with them, returning years later to a house destroyed by conflict. This week’s fire had been more merciful, stopping at the road across from her home.
About a hundred metres further down the road, the burned-out shell of a car lies by a tree. Khoury acknowledges that she got off lucky.
The blaze that lashed residential areas in Damour from late on Monday to Tuesday had first passed through Meshref, a five-minute drive up the Chouf mountains.
There, it carbonised much of the forest and hollowed-out buildings, aided by strong winds and dry conditions.
“They were winds of fire,” 35-year-old Abdel-Rahman says, as he cleans soot of the facade of a large sandstone villa in the town.
“It was unbelievable, the fire was 20 to 30 metres (66 to 98 feet) high; no one could keep up.”
Abdel-Rahman, who tends to the villa for its owners who come for weekends or holidays, had been dozing off when he noticed an orange glow coming through the window.
“It was like judgment day. Terrible, absolutely terrible,” he says, watching a video of the fire across the street from the house.