Two people have been arrested for starting a fire in Beit Meir, where massive flames destroyed at least ten homes overnight Thursday. Officials evacuated the entire town, as 60 firefighters attempted to douse the flames that were still spreading quickly, as strong winds continued to prevail throughout the country
Officials attempted to evacuate the town, but were held up because the blaze had enveloped the road out of town – essentially enclosing residents and preventing them from escaping, as the town is on a cliff that offers only one exit. It took officials about an hour to fight that part of the blaze, enabling residents to leave. Police said that when the fire broke out, they received reports that several suspicious figures were seen in the area, and after a search, police tracked down and arrested one. Other arrests are expected, police said. Other fires were still burning in the region, including near Latrun and Shaar Hagai.
Meanwhile, evidence continued to mount that many of the fires had been started by arsonists. Currently, police have in custody 13 suspects who have been tied to the arson, most of them connected to the fires in Haifa. One of the fires in Haifa Thursday burned right outside the main fire station in that city; according to police, that fire had been started by arsonists with the intention of keeping firefighters busy battling that blaze, while fires further up Mount Carmel continued to burn out of control.
On Friday, Channel Two broadcast footage taken by security cameras in the Shomron city of Ariel. Cameras which afford a 360-degree view of the city’s perimeter clearly showed three Arabs setting a fire and fleeing the scene. Firefighters quickly doused the flames, and officials were searching for the suspects.
In Haifa, firefighters had achieved control over most of the fires that were burning in that city, but there were hundreds of “hot spots” that continued to smolder. Fire officials said that it would likely be ten days or even more before the fires were totally doused. Some 750 homes and apartments were destroyed in the fires that hit five areas of the city, local officials said, with hundreds more in danger of collapse due to weakened infrastructure caused by fire damage. Thousands of dunams of forest growth inside and outside the city have been burned to the ground. As of Thursday night, over 150 people had been hospitalized for treatment of injuries caused by the fire or the evacuation, with most suffering from smoke inhalation.
The large majority of the 60,000-plus residents of Haifa who were evacuated from the city will have to remain away until at least Shabbos. At a press conference Thursday, Interior Minister Rabbi Aryeh Deri said that the government had agreed to pick up all expenses that local authorities incurred in housing and feeding evacuees. Chessed groups around the country have marshaled their resources to provide housing and food for the evacuees, and thousands will be spending Shabbos as guests in the homes of many Israelis who have opened their homes to help out.