Firefighters Make Gains as Forest Fires Rage Across Israel

YERUSHALAYIM -
Fire fighters try to extinguish a forest fire near ZIchron Yaakov. (Vaaknin /Flash90)
Fire fighters try to extinguish a forest fire near ZIchron Yaakov. (Vaaknin /Flash90)

As a second long day of multiple fires around the country came to a close on Wednesday night, Israel’s firefighters could claim hard-won victories as major blazes were declared to have been extinguished.

In Zichron Yaakov, Nataf in the Yerushalayim hills, Tzefas, Kfar Veradim and Nazareth, the fires that forced entire neighborhoods to be evacuated, destroyed dozens of homes and spread hazardous pollution in the air were pronounced under control or out completely by the evening hours.

In Dolev, in the Binyamin Regional Council, firefighters were at last reported still struggling with a blaze that raged off and on since Tuesday night, whipped up repeatedly by strong winds.

During the night, over 60 firefighting teams were deployed there. Flames were seen reaching 60 feet high in three different parts of the town, and gas containers caught fire and exploded, according to Ynet.

Two people in Dolev were taken to the hospital in light condition suffering from smoke inhalation. Later in the evening, the IDF was forced to evacuate a military outpost, and residents were still not permitted to return to their homes.

A firefighting plane drops fire retardant during a wildfire, near the communal settlement of Nataf, close to Yerushalayim. (Ronen Zvulun/Reuters)
A firefighting plane drops fire retardant during a wildfire, near the communal settlement of Nataf, close to Yerushalayim. (Ronen Zvulun/Reuters)

In Talmon, a village of 3,500 residents in Har Yehudah, 55 firefighters were fighting the blaze as of Wednesday night, said a spokesperson for the Fire Department of Yehudah and Shomron. A fire was also raging in Neve Ilan, a moshav of over 900 residents.

In Gilon, a city in the Galilee, at least two houses were destroyed by fire, Channel 2 reported.

In all, there are around 220 fires across a country that has experienced a particularly dry season, which may be exacerbated by windy days ahead.

The two days of conflagration in Zichron Yaakov appeared finally over on Wednesday night. Authorities gave residents permission to return to their homes, except for those which had been damaged. All firefighting crews left the area, with the exception of eight who stayed behind in case of a resurgence of the fire, as had happened on Wednesday morning. At its height, 68 units and 205 firefighters battled the flames and high winds.

The Environmental Protective Ministry warned that high levels of air pollution were detected in the city and recommended that those who had not been evacuated should remain home and seal any openings.

Dr. Levana Kordova-Biezuner, the scientific director of the national air-monitoring system at the EPM, explained that “the fire particles are very dangerous because they contain all kinds of poisonous particles and could cause respiratory syndrome, burning eyes, shortness of breath and severe asthma attacks to affected people.”

Despite strong suspicion of arson, no arrests had yet been made as of late Wednesday, and it was not clear that arsonists, rather than incendiary weather conditions, had been the main culprits.

Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan said: “It’s beginning to appear — in light of the multiple fire locations — that arson could be the cause of some of the fires. The police and the Fire Department will investigate. I ask the public to remain vigilant and report any case of suspected arson and any blaze to the police and the Fire Department, mostly in the coming couple of days due to the dry weather.”

The spokesman for the National Fire and Rescue Service, Yoram Levi, told Arutz Sheva on Wednesday that arson “is always a possibility. The investigation of the Zichron Yaakov wildfire has not yet begun…and investigators have not entered the area. There is evidence from last week’s fire in Tal El in the Galil that it was an act of arson.”

However, Levi said that Tuesday’s fire in the Latrun area was probably due to negligence. “The sequence of fires is not unusual considering the high winds. Every small thing, every welding job, every logfire, every act of igniting fire can spread very fast. Everything will be investigated but we have not finished yet,” concluded Levi.

In light of the experience of the past two days, Fire Commissioner Shimon Ben-Ner issued a fire ban covering nearly the entire country, which bars lighting bonfires and fires in open fields. Violation of the ban carries a six month jail sentence or a 74,300 shekel fine.


Updated Wednesday, November 23, 2016 at 8:52 pm