Firefighters Continue to Battle Dozens of Blazes Across Israel; Arson Suspected

YERUSHALAYIM -
A firefighter sprays water to ensure that a wildfire is put out, in the northern Israeli town of Zikhron Ya'akov November 23, 2016. REUTERS/Baz Ratner
A firefighter sprays water to ensure that a wildfire is put out, in Zichron Yaakov, Wednesday. (Reuters/Baz Ratner)

Promised rains never materialized on Tuesday night, but the strong, dry east wind continued to blow in Israel on Wednesday – with the result that numerous new fires broke out throughout the morning, while an enormous blaze in Zichron Yaakov that had been brought under control overnight Tuesday started up again.

It was one of a wave of fires that have broken out in Israel over the past several days. Investigators have begun checking the remains of fires that have been doused for signs of arson. In the past, investigators have discovered that arson was responsible for many of the fires that broke out during extremely dry weather, and Arab terrorists have often been suspected of setting fires deliberately for nationalist reasons.

The fire near Nataf, Wednesday. (Arik Abulaf, Fire Brigade)
The fire near Nataf, Wednesday. (Arik Abulaf, Fire Brigade)

Commenting on the fires, Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan said Tuesday that “it appears that at least some of the many instances of fires that we are experiencing could be due to arson. Police and fire investigators will do everything possible to find the arsonists, if it indeed turns out that they did this deliberately.”

A large fire broke out in the Nataf Forest outside Yerushalayim on Wednesday morning. Four firefighting crews were battling to hold back the blaze, which was moving quickly towards the village of Nataf. At 10 a.m., officials began evacuating residents of the village from their homes. Four planes were also flying over the fire in an attempt to douse it. Also burning Wednesday morning was a fire near Nahariya, which was brought under control a short while later. Numerous fires broke out overnight Tuesday in the Galilee, including in forests near the village of Ka’abul, the Yefeh Nof Forest near Ma’alot and in a forest outside the Tefen IDF base. Altogether, firefighters battled 13 fires in the region throughout the night.

In the Shomron, a fire broke out at about midnight near the town of Dolev. Twenty-one firefighting crews were called in to battle that blaze, and several dozen families were evacuated out of fear that the fire would reach their homes. The fire was brought under control about three hours later, and the families were permitted to return to their homes.

Meanwhile, a major fire in Zichron Yaakov that caused damage and sent 23 people to the hospital Tuesday reignited on Wednesday, as high winds fanned the remains of the blaze and spread it in new directions. Dozens of firefighters were back on the scene in order to prevent a repeat of the damage that occurred on Tuesday.

Ten homes in the town were burned to the ground, with another 30 suffering partial damage. Most of those treated as a result of the fire suffered from mild cases of smoke inhalation and were released from the hospital within hours, but three people were still in the hospital as of Wednesday morning. Air pollution levels in the area were very high as a result of the fire, environmental officials said.

High winds and relatively high temperatures hampered efforts by firefighters’ throughout the day Tuesday to put out a fire that broke out Monday night in the Latrun area. There, too, officials evacuated residents of the Neveh Shalom kibbutz, as flames threatened homes in the settlement. That blaze was brought under control Tuesday afternoon. In the Latrun fire, investigators discovered cigarettes and other tobacco paraphernalia that may have been responsible.