Dozens of communities severely damaged in massive heat-wave induced fires

The heat wave has caused several fires throughout the country, with one soldier being treated for injuries after helping extinguish a blaze in Kibbutz Karmiya.

By
May 24, 2019 04:20

Beit Hagai fire

Beit Hagai fire

 
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Dozens of houses burned to the ground and at least 3,500 people were evacuated from their homes on Thursday, after more than 20 fires raged across the state. Injuries were minimal, however, with just several people lightly injured or treated for smoke inhalation.

Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan cautioned Israelis Thursday night that “there is a good chance that tomorrow is going to be worse than today. If we get through Friday, this will be behind us,” he said in a briefing.

From late Wednesday night until at least late Thursday, teams of professional and volunteer firefighters were battling flames, exacerbated by high temperatures reaching 37 °C  in some parts of the country and strong winds.
Israel has requested firefighting assistance from nearby countries. Russia, Erdan said, has offered support.

The first fire broke out near Beit Hagai in the southern Hebron Hills, followed by others in the West Bank and Jerusalem. More fires ignited throughout Thursday.

The residents of Moshav Mevo Modiin were evacuated from their homes Thursday afternoon after a massive fire engulfed the area. At least 16 private homes in the area were in flames Thursday night, according to police.
Yonina Libin, whose mother lives in Mevo Modiin, was visiting the community when the fire began encroaching from the surrounding forest.
Fires blaze near Jerusalem and around Israel as a heat wave hits the country, 2019. (Courtesy the Fire and Resque Department Spokesperson)

“There was definitely a lot of fire,” Libin said of the flames. “People for sure lost homes and everything they have.”

She said that when the fire looked like it was getting close, “as far as we are aware, all of the residents were evacuated safely.”

She escaped with her mother and her two daughters, who were in the moshav with their grandmother celebrating the Lag B’Omer holiday.

“It is a vacation day, so families were home with their kids,” she explained.

The majority of families left for the nearby Modiin shopping center and later took refuge in the homes of friends.
Dozens of firefighters were working to put out the flames, which quickly spread throughout the area communities of Adam, Shilat and Neot Kedumim. Reports indicated that the wind, which began dying down toward sundown, had initially made it more difficult to quell the flames.

At least eight aircraft-borne fire extinguishing systems assisted putting out fires in the area.

Police blocked Route 443 for several hours and left Route 1, the major artery connecting Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, a snarled traffic jam as the sun began to descend.

On the skyline, brown and black smoke billowed from the Ben Shemen Forest. Usually a picnic area, the place was turned into an inferno as a fire spread during the hottest day of spring so far.
Firefighting forces, the army and the police were deployed to areas around the forest, setting up a command post at Tel Hadid.

In addition to Mevo Modiin, residents of Ben Shemen, Gimzo and Pisgat Ze’ev were also evacuated, as were all personnel at the Mitkan Adam IDF army base in the Modiin area. This is a base mainly used for the Oketz canine and other Special Forces units.

Tarum, a moshav north of Beit Shemesh, was likewise evacuated.

In another part of the country, firefighters put out a fire at an apartment building in Beitar Illit. A mother and her children had been pulled out of the building by the first responders. Another 42-year-old man was moderately wounded in that fire.

There were fires reported near Rosh Ha’ayin and Nahal Oz, as well as tens of fires that broke out in the southern regions of Rahat, Be’eri and Shaar Hanegev.
Officer Deri Semachi briefed reporters on the situation from Tel Hadid. He said that investigations were still underway to determine the cause of these fires.

An electrical fault was suspected as the cause of at least one of them. He urged residents not to light fires, such as for camping, due to the conditions. But he was also cautious in assigning blame, noting that it could turn out to be accidental like the Mount Carmel fire of 2010, a deadly forest fire that started on the mountain in northern Israel, just south of Haifa.

ARSON HAS not been ruled out, according to the Police.

“We are looking at the cause of the fires in Mevo Modiin and the Jerusalem area,” Superintendent Micky Rosenfeld, the Israel Police national spokesman to the foreign media, told The Jerusalem Post. “We have to locate where they were started from. But the order is like this: take control of the fires, then investigate what caused them and gain an understanding of whether it was intentional or not.”

Some of the fires in the Jerusalem area are thought to have been caused by Lag B’omer bonfires, and the fires in the South are allegedly due to arson from incendiary balloons launched from the Gaza Strip, according to police.

Authorities noted that it is possible several of the kibbutzim and moshavim had not yet trimmed the brush surrounding their homes, which they said could have contributed to the fires.

The Israel Nature and National Parks Protection Authority has appealed to the public not to take walks or go on hikes in open areas through Friday while even higher temperatures grip the country.
In addition, the Firefighting Commission said it is forbidden to light fires at reserves and parks while these conditions prevail.

The Education Ministry announced the cancellation of all school trips planned for open areas, including overnight trips in the affected areas. In addition, permits for trips in areas with an unusual heat load have all been canceled – including in the Western Galilee, Carmel, the Golan Heights, the Sea of Galilee, the Coastal Plain, the Judean Hills, the Jordan Valley, the Dead Sea, Arava, Negev, Judean Desert, Jezreel Valley and Eilat.

Play by play of today's fires:

15:38: A man was moderately injured by smoke inhalation in Beitar Illit
15:49: Kibbutz Harel was evacuated due to a fire
15:53: Zikim Junction was blocked due to a fire
16:39: Road 443 is blocked from the Shilat junction to the Gimzo junction in both directions
16:42:  Several houses were hit by the fire at Kibbutz Harel, and the fire fighters are fighting for the houses
16:39: Road 443 is blocked from the Shilat junction to the Gimzo junction in both directions
16:48: A fire rages near Pisgat Ze'ev in northern Jerusalem
16:50: The evacuated communities: Mevo Modiim, Gimzo, Kfar Daniel, Shilat, Kfar Ruth, Neot Kedumim
17:03: Three of the victims of the fire in Beitar Illit were evacuated to Shaare Zedek Medical Center

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