Officials: Bonfire Ban Leads to Cleaner Air

YERUSHALAYIM -
Boys look at a medurah in the city of Ashdod, Wednesday night. (Reuters/Amir Cohen)

Lag BaOmer passed safely and peacefully in most parts of the country, baruch Hashem. Some 500,000 people came to Meron throughout the night of Lag BaOmer to be present at the hilula of Rashbi. Ichud Hatzalah workers said toward the end of Thursday that despite the very large crowd, they were called in to treat only some 486 individuals, the vast majority for minor burns and dehydration.

On Wednesday, fire officials and municipal authorities throughout the country banned the lighting of bonfires, because of fear that high winds and extremely hot and dry weather would precipitate fires and blazes that would be difficult to battle. Among the few municipalities where bonfires were not banned was in Elad, where firefighters were called in to battle several bonfires that began burning out of control. One large bonfire in the center of the city required numerous firefighting crews to battle, and the fire was brought under control only a short distance from a shul.

One effect of the bonfire ban was a significant improvement in air quality on the morning of Lag BaOmer, compared to previous years, according to Environment Ministry officials. Pollution levels were down some 80 percent in some places Thursday, compared to the levels that are usually seen after a night full of bonfires.

With that, there was an increase in pollution in a few places, especially Ashkelon, where levels were up 35 percent compared to a year earlier – even though bonfires were banned there as well.

Officials attributed the pollution increase to fires that have been burning along the Gaza border, caused by Gaza Arabs starting blazes using bombs attached to kites, with the smoke from those fires being blown by the wind toward Ashkelon.