Israeli firefighting services struggled on Thursday to put out dozens of blazes around the country, including brushfires in the center and arson near the Gaza border.
The extremely hot, dry weather was thought to have caused at least some of the fires, and helped others to spread.
By the afternoon the situation was considered to be so serious as to possibly warrant reaching out to Cyprus, Greece and Croatia to send firefighting aircraft to help bring matters under control.
Hundreds of people had to be evacuated from their homes. Twenty-two people were hospitalized for smoke inhalation in central Israel, including 2 in moderate condition, according to Magen David Adom spokesman Zaki Heller.
In Yerushalayim, an 80-year-old man was rushed to Shaare Zedek Medical Center after collapsing from an apparent heatstroke. He was reportedly in serious condition.
In the northern Yerushalayim neighborhood of Pisgat Zeev, a fire broke out in an empty lot adjacent to Dov Sadan Street. Police have urged residents to keep away from the area and close their windows.
Dozens of firefighting crews were dispatched to a huge brushfire outside Mevo Modiin in the Ben Shemen Forest, just off Route 443. Firefighting planes are coordinating with units on the ground struggling to control the blaze.
Some residents in the nearby communities of Kfar Daniel, Mevo Modiim and Gimzo were evacuated from their homes and Route 443, a key road linking Tel Aviv and the capital, was closed, according to The Times of Israel.
Noga, a resident of nearby Kibbutz Harel who runs a day care center there and was evacuated along with the children, told Maariv, “The most important thing is that the kids are okay. Everyone is okay. I’ve never experienced anything like this in my entire life on the kibbutz.”
In the Gaza periphery, balloon-borne incendiary devices launched from the Hamas-run enclave caused a number of fires.
At least two fires in the Eshkol region were ignited by these devices, the local fire department said. One of them caused extensive damage to a wheat field outside Kibbutz Nahal Oz.
Another fire, in the Hof Ashkelon region, was still raging as “large numbers of firefighting forces” worked to extinguish it.
In addition, a large number of firefighting teams, assisted by construction crews and volunteers, were combating a massive fire outside Kiryat Malachi, which began in a wheat field and spread to a number of greenhouses and surrounding grasslands.
“At this stage, the firefighters have control of the fire, and a lot of damage has been caused to the area. The firefighters are still working to fully extinguish the blazes,” according to the fire department.
Updated Thursday, May 23, 2019 at 1:45 pm added info
Updated Thursday, May 23, 2019 at 2:30 pm added info