'Firefighters took 2 hours to respond to J'lem fire'

Five lightly injured, in blaze threatening Mevaseret Zion neighborhood; hundreds evacuated, fire started in 3 locations.

July 15, 2012 18:36
2 minute read.
Fire in Jerusalem area 370

Jerusalem fire 370. (photo credit: Melanie Lidman)

In a scene eerily similar to another large blaze three weeks ago, Jerusalem firefighters dealt with a fire that raced through the wadis west of Jerusalem on Sunday.

Five people were lightly injured by smoke inhalation, including two police officers, and a firefighter was hurt after falling from a ladder.

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The fire burned around 10 hectacres (25 acres) of land. A number of homes suffered light damage, including many in Mevaseret Zion’s Maoz Zion Bet neighborhood. Firefighters gained control over the flames after approximately six hours on one of Israel’s hottest days of the year, with temperatures reaching a high of 34 degrees in Jerusalem.

Chaos ensued as Border Police officers rushed to evacuate residents of Ein Hemed, Kastel and Maoz Zion from their homes in police jeeps, although some ignored the demand to leave.

All of the homes in Maoz Zion Bet were tinted rose from the chemicals dumped on the fire. Red-speckled residents were furious with the fire-fighting services, and said it took them more than two hours to respond.

“The media arrived here before the firefighters! Is that right?” exclaimed Talia Asher as she scrubbed her balcony of red flame retardant.

Mali Ben-Yehuda, who lives in Maoz Zion Bet, said her father and brother started putting out the fire with the hose from their house because it took so long for the firefighters to arrive. The fire broke out a few hundred meters from her house in the wadi, in the same place where firefighters battled the blaze on Saturday. Ben- Yehuda said she believes the fire was not properly extinguished the first time.

Thirty-seven fire-fighting crews consisting of 82 firefighters from Jerusalem and Beit Shemesh rushed to the wadis to battle the flames. At some points, the fire engulfed entire trees and reached higher than the nearby multi-story apartment buildings. Five planes battled the blaze from above.

Sunday’s fire had three main starting points, though firefighters refused to say if it was caused by arson or negligence.

Arie Shamam, head of the Mevaseret Zion local council, said that because the town is surrounded by forests, they need to increase their fire-fighting capabilities. He added that the topography of the town, which is very hilly, contributed to the difficulty of stopping the spread of the fire. Shamam also said that he would investigate claims from residents that firefighters took upwards of two hours to respond.

In early July, police arrested two Palestinians suspects from the village of Katanna in connection with the large blaze that burned the area around Motza and Ma’aleh Hahamisha three weeks ago. The two suspects confessed that they had started the fire for nationalistic reasons, in order to harm Israel.

Firefighters have dealt with more than 1,500 fires in open areas in the past two months, and concluded that at least 70 percent of the fires were the result of arson. Twelve people, both Jewish and Arab, have been arrested in connection with the fires.

Jerusalem Post staff contributed to this report.

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