Officials Plead for Fire Safety After Battling Hundreds of Blazes

Israeli fire fighters try to extinguish a forest fire raging in Biriya Forest. Photo by Basel Awidat/Flash90
Israeli fire fighters try to extinguish a forest fire raging in Biriya Forest. (Basel Awidat/Flash90)

Over 1,100 fires and fire-related incidents have been reported in Israel’s forests and national parks since the beginning of Chol Hamoed Pesach, fire officials said, again pleading with Israelis to be careful when barbecuing and building campfires. Hundreds of brush fires Tuesday consumed hundreds of dunams of forest and agricultural lands, shut down highways and forced evacuations of residents in some places.

Monday and Tuesday, with temperatures hovering in the mid-90s and higher in most parts of the country, were the worst days for fires, with firefighters called to deal with 604 incidents – 473 of them officially classified as brush fires. Most of them were small, and were quickly put out, but several spread too quickly to bring under immediate control, fire officials said.

The biggest Pesach fire so far took place on Monday in the Biriya Forest in the northern Galilee. Firefighters battled the blaze for hours, losing dozens of dunams of natural forest growth before it could be brought under control. Firefighters employed six planes to dump water on the fire to prevent it from spreading. On Tuesday, a fire broke out near the town of Shlomi, outside Haifa. Large numbers of firefighters converged on the blaze in an attempt to control it before it spread to homes and factories. Meanwhile, another major blaze broke out next to Kibbutz Gadot, on the banks of the Jordan River. Hundreds of hikers were ordered to leave the area, which had attracted large crowds due to the hot weather.

The large majority of blazes were due to carelessness, officials said, although in several cases investigators are trying to determine if deliberate arson was involved.