Of the 50 homes in the town of Mevo Modiin in central Israel, 40 were destroyed in the fire that burned Thursday. B’chasdei Shamayim no injuries were reported. Hundreds of residents of the town were either in shelters or taking refuge with friends and relatives. Damage was reported to homes in other towns as well, as fires continued to burn throughout the night in some locations.
Israel’s firefighters were getting some help from firefighters abroad – including from Italy, Greece, Croatia and Cyprus – in fighting the wave of blazes that plagued Israel Thursday. Firefighting planes are due to arrive from these countries Friday. The Foreign Ministry expressed its thanks to those who were helping out.
Besides Mevo Modiin, fires also burned through the night in other areas near Road 443. The road remained closed overnight Thursday, as did Road 44 in the area north of Beit Shemesh. Both roads were partially reopened Friday morning. Fires in the area of Kibbutz Harel, to the south, are largely under control, officials said. Six homes in the kibbutz have been destroyed, but hundreds of dunams of wheat and other crops have been destroyed. The fires in towns in the Gaza border region are under control as well, officials said. In Eilat, fires broke out on several high-tension electrical wires, plunging many parts of the city into darkness.
Residents of some towns that had been evacuated from their homes for their safety were allowed to return to their homes Friday, but many thousands are likely to remain away from home for Shabbos. Chessed groups were gearing up to try and find Shabbos accommodations for families.
Badly damaged in the fire Thursday was a portion of the Ben Shemen Forest. Gilad Mastai, director of the central region for the Jewish National Fund, told Yediot Achronot that the damage “was significant, not just to the trees but to wildlife as well. Large parts of the forest were burned. This forest is the ‘green lung’ of the central region. We did not expect such a terrible blow, as we patrolled the forest all night Wednesday and made sure to put out fires that had been left smoldering.”
The situation may get worse before it gets better. Friday’s forecast is for even hotter weather, and officials are concerned that smoldering fires could ignite again under the tremendous heat. Some of the fires were due to bonfires that were not properly doused on Lag BaOmer, Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan said Thursday night, but some of them were due to deliberate acts.
“We need to quickly investigate the causes of these fires, and to set up watches on the ground and in the air to ensure that we do not have more fires set on Friday. We may have to declare a public emergency if the situation warrants it,” he said.
Temperatures soared throughout Israel to over 100 degrees Fahrenheit, and relief is not expected until Friday night, when temperatures will fall to normal for this time of year, forecasters said.