Haifa Residents Return Home, But Some Blazes Still Burning

A family home burnt in an overnight fire in Beit Meir, outside of Jerusalem on November 25, 2016. Photo by Hadas Parush/Flash90 *** Local Caption *** ????? ??? ????? ???? ????? ???? ?? ????? ??????? ??? ????
A family home that was destroyed in a fire in Beit Meir, Friday. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

Although the fires – many of them set by terror arsonists, it turns out – that have plagued Israel over the past few days were still smoldering, and in some cases burning, the tide turned over Shabbos as firefighters continued with their efforts to save lives by preventing the spread of fire. Thousands of people who were evacuated from their homes spent Shabbos as guests of strangers who opened their homes to assist those who, in some cases, lost everything they had as flames destroyed their homes.

Most of the 75,000-some residents of Haifa who were evacuated from their homes Thursday were permitted to return Friday, as fire-dousing planes dumped tons of flame retardant and water on smoldering fires. Nearly 1,000 homes were totally destroyed in the fires that broke out at five sites in the city on Thursday, while hundreds of others were considered uninhabitable and in need of extensive repairs. Officials estimated the damage at at least a half billion shekels.

Thousands of soldiers, border guards, and police were deployed throughout the weekend, patrolling open areas in an effort to prevent arsonists from starting fires. Despite those efforts, dozens of new fires were reported over Shabbos, including in the Yerushalayim Hills and in Shomron. Firefighters were able to put out nearly all those blazes without incident. However, a major blaze that broke out near the Judean Hills town of Nataf Friday afternoon continued to burn into Friday night. Hundreds of residents of the town were evacuated from their homes Friday afternoon, minutes before Shabbos, but by Motzoei Shabbos were permitted to return home. Assisting the firefighting efforts was the Evergreen 747 Supertanker, which carries some 20,000 gallons of water and fire retardant. The plane arrived in Israel Friday afternoon, and has been flying over the still-burning fires since its arrival.

A major fire broke out Motzoei Shabbos near Chalamish, in the Binyamin region, and all residents of that town were evacuated as well. Fifteen houses went up in flames, and as of Motzoei Shabbos the fire there had still not been brought under control. A fire in an apartment building in Maale Adumim saw three people taken to the hospital in serious condition suffering from smoke inhalation. That fire was apparently due not to arson, but to an electrical short.

With the situation beginning to return to normal, officials were able to step back and begin to assess the damage. At least 11,000 dunams of forest growth went up in flames in 58 forest fires since Wednesday, including 7,500 dunams in two major fires in the Yerushalayim Hills.