Evacuees Begin Return to Fire-Ravaged Area Near Yerushalayim

View of the damage caused to a house in Moshav Giv’at Ye’arim, by the wildfire outside Yerushalayim, Tuesday. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

As the three-day battle to defeat Israel’s biggest fire in years approached its conclusion, people evacuated from towns on the outskirts of Yerushalayim were notified they could return to their homes—or what’s left of them.

Over 2,000 residents were evacuated as the huge wildfire threatened their homes since Sunday, when the fire started.

Their return was approved on Tuesday after emergency services said the danger to their area had passed. But firefighters were still working to extinguish flames in other areas of the hills surrounding the capital, as high winds threatened to reignite some locations, according to the Times of Israel.

Some of the evacuees came back to houses that were damaged or totally destroyed by the fire.

In one of the most heartrending cases, Micha Harari, a resident of Ramat Raziel, found that his harp workshop and gallery, housing instruments he had made by hand over the past 40 years, had been reduced to ashes.

“Everything was burned, the gallery, the work complex. Nothing was left,” he told Channel 12 news.

Harari had no choice but to leave. “When the fire sparked, I was in my work complex, which is 150 yards from the house,” he said. “I saw the flames begin to approach. My wife and I fled immediately. We didn’t even have time to pack a bag, take any more clothes or food. We had to leave as quickly as possible.”

“When I saw my life’s work burned to the ground, I was crushed,” he said. “Everything has completely disappeared, nothing remains.”

Eli Ben Zaken, a winery owner from Ramat Raziel, was critical of the government’s response, telling Walla news:

“We saw the fire in Beit Meir and it started moving toward us. Had planes gone up at that moment, it would have been over in the blink of an eye, with no damage,” “I came home and the fire had already neared us. We were lucky the fire passed us from both sides, but didn’t pass here. There is no direct damage, but the smoke is devastating for wine. We have 60 tons we can’t use. The damage is immense,” he said.

The Prime Minister’s Office and the Mateh Yehuda Regional Council have said they will provide assistance to residents whose property was damaged in the fire, the Walla news website reported. The council was assured that a budget will be provided for rehabilitation and that residents will be compensated for the damage.

An estimated 6,200 acres were destroyed in the forest outside the capital, surpassing the scale of the December 2010 forest fire in the Carmel, near Haifa, that burned about 6,000 acres and claimed the lives of 44 people.

B’chasdei shamayim, there have been no deaths or serious injuries in this week’s fire.

Officials predict that a rehabilitation of the scorched land may take decades.

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