Fire, City Officials Fret Over Lag BaOmer Bonfire Dangers

YERUSHALAYIM -
Children build a bonfire for Lag BaOmer in Tzfas. (David Cohen/Flash90)

The hot, dry weather prevailing in Israel this week has led numerous cities and towns to ban the traditional Lag BaOmer bonfires, or to severely limit them. In many localities, the authorities will hold an “authorized” bonfire, to which all residents are invited, and which will be held in a safe place with firefighters standing by to prevent the spread of flames. But in many places, bonfires lit spontaneously by youth groups, organizations, families or others will be banned.

Among the cities where that policy will be implemented are Haifa, Tel Aviv, Hadera, Nesher and others. On Tuesday night, the Bnei Brak municipality systematically tore down the infrastructure of bonfires that had been set up by children in empty lots in the city, in preparation for lighting on Wednesday night, the beginning of Lag BaOmer. City officials said in media interviews that the move was necessary, given the dangerous conditions. “The possibility of tragedy far outweighs the experience of children sitting in front of a bonfire, and we cannot take any chances,” officials were quoted as saying on Kol Chai radio.

Besides higher than average temperatures – with peak highs set to reach the low 90s Fahrenheit in many places – the current weather system features higher than average winds, with strong wind gusts. The dry weather and high winds are just the kind of thing that could cause a major blaze, fire officials said. In instructions to municipalities on bonfires issued Wednesday morning, the head of Israel’s National Firefighters Federation, Dadi Simchi, said that localities needed to ensure that bonfires were well-controlled and did not exceed a height of three meters (nine feet).

While calling for extra attention to prevent fires given the weather conditions, he did not call for a mass cancellation of bonfires. With that, all bonfires needed to be within controlled areas, and kept far away from wooded areas or forests, the instructions said.