10,000 People Evacuated as Huge Fire Burns Near Yerushalayim

Israeli firefighters with a giant cloud of smoke at the site of a fire in a forest near Beit Meir, outside Yerushalayim, Sunday. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

A huge forest fire near Yerushalayim has necessitated the evacuation of some 10,000 residents in six communities as firefighters worked to contain the flames on Sunday evening, The Times of Israel reported.

(Video of the forest fire burning near Yerushalayim. (Chanoch Tzoref/Forest of Jewish National Fund)

Fire and Rescue Services Yerushalayim District Commander Nissim Twito said that 60-70 firefighting teams and 12 planes and helicopters were fighting one of the worst fires in years.

Defense Minister Benny Gantz ordered the military to send an emergency team to the scene to assist the firefighters, his office said. Search-and-rescue troops from the Home Front Command, along with the elite helicopter-borne Unit 669 rescue detachment were dispatched to the area.

The hot, dry tinderbox conditions, abetted by strong winds were making it difficult to control the fire. Planes were dumping retardant onto the burning area as emergency units from other districts streamed to the site to help local services.

Public Security Minister Omer Barlev said the battle against the blaze was expected to continue “all night and possibly tomorrow as well.”

The fire, located about 8 miles west of the capital, gave off a pall of smoke across Yerushalayim large enough to block out the afternoon sun, according to the ToI. Routes 395 and 3955 that run through the area were closed to traffic due to the fires.

Residents in Beit Meir, Ksalon, Ramat Raziel, Shoresh, Sho’eva and Givat Ye’arim were asked to evacuate their homes as a precaution. Those remaining were advised to close their windows to avoid exposure to the smoke.

The Eitanim psychiatric hospital was also being evacuated, according to reports. Three people there were feared missing.

Three people were treated for smoke inhalation but none required hospitalization, the Magen David Adom ambulance service reported.

There was no official comment as yet regarding the possible cause of the fire.

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett interrupted a security cabinet meeting to discuss the fire with other senior officials, including Defense Minister Benny Gantz, Public Security Minister Omer Barlev, Interior Minister Ayelet Shaked, Police Commissioner Kobi Shabtai, Fire and Rescue Service chief Dedi Simchi, and National Security Adviser Eyal Hulata.

In a switch, Greece reportedly offered to send assistance, shortly after Israeli firefighting planes returned from aiding that country in fighting its own forest fires.

Prime Minister Bennett was quoted as saying that he will consider the offer.

The National Emergency Management Authority (NEMA) opened a command center to coordinate the multi-team efforts, the defense ministry said.

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