As temperatures soared across the country, resultant brushfires destroyed several homes and triggered other emergency events Wednesday.
The daylong heat wave sparked residential, commercial, forest and brushfires, with most of the blazes occurring in the Center and South, Israel Police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said.
One brushfire destroyed at least three single-family homes and ignited two gas explosions in the town of Tel Mond, east of Netanya, he said. No injuries were reported, and firefighters were able to prevent the flames from spreading to other residences.
While the heat was expected to subside by Thursday, temperatures rose to 44° Celsius in some areas Wednesday, with the central Shfela region and the Arava the hottest, according to the Israel Meteorological Service.
A spring heat wave – sharav in Hebrew – with such extremely high temperatures occurs in Israel only about once every 10 years, explained Dr. Amos Porat, head of the IMS Climate Department.
As a result of the extreme heat, Magen David Adom paramedics reported treating 143 patients for exhaustion, fainting, dehydration and hyperthermia – significantly more than an ordinary spring day.
Meanwhile, some 600 firefighters and 12 firefighting aircraft were placed on high alert throughout the nation, according to the National Fire and Rescue Authority.
In addition to the fire that destroyed homes and caused gas explosions in Tel Mond, another blaze broke out in the industrial zone of Jerusalem’s Atarot neighborhood. By afternoon, it was contained by numerous firefighting crews, Rosenfeld said.
A building fire in the Jerusalem neighborhood of Ras al-Amud resulted in six hospitalizations due to light injuries from smoke inhalation, as well as severe structural damage, he added.
Forest fires also broke out in Nahal Sorek, near Beit Shemesh, requiring more than 20 firefighting crews and four aircraft to contain and extinguish it, Rosenfeld said. No serious injuries were reported.
Authorities evacuated the residents of the central Israel moshav of Neveh Michael as winds kept alive a blaze that ripped through the agricultural cooperative.
Thirteen fire crews deployed to the moshav not far from Beit Shemesh and reinforcements arrived from firefighters cadet courses.
Authorities said late Wednesday they had yet to get the fire under control.
The decision to evacuate residents was made after it became clear that gusts of wind were pushing the fire toward the homes. Fire crews have taken up positions near the homes in an effort to beat back the flames.
Residents of the town of Mabu’im in southern Israel also were ordered to evacuate after a fire broke out in their vicinity, Rosenfeld said.
By Wednesday evening, he said, most fires were either contained or extinguished.
“Police units responded together with firefighters to fight the blazes in southern and central Israel, and police units blocked off roads to prevent people from entering dangerous areas,” he said.
Weather events with such extremely high temperatures this time of year typically occur once a decade, with the last similar event happening in early June 2002 and lasting for three days, as opposed to this event’s probable one-day duration, said Porat of the IMS. Prior to 2002, such extreme heat waves were recorded in April 1994, May 1988, May 1980 and May 1970, he said.
While the temperatures throughout the country on Wednesday did not break records in most areas, the temperature recorded in the Habesor station in Israel’s South, 44.3°, was the highest at that site since the IMS began measuring there in 1975. At the Dorot station, also in southern Israel, the IMS measured a temperature of 44.2°, the highest on record there since 1970, when 45.3° was recorded.
The extreme heat is the result of a low-pressure system that arrived from North Africa, bringing with it very hot air from the desert, accompanied by southerly winds, Porat explained.
“The depression is moving quite quickly, so the length of the heatwave is short and will be with us for only a day to a day-and-a-half,” he said. The heat wave that hit Israel nine days ago and lasted several days, was the result of a Red Sea trough that was more stable, so it was much slower and generated heat for a longer period, Porat explained.
Temperatures were highest on Wednesday in the Shfela region and the Arava, ranging from 42-44°, according to the IMS. Temperatures were also very high in the coastal plain, the northern beach areas and the northern valleys, with figures of 40-42°. The high numbers in the coastal plain are particularly noteworthy because this is the second time this May the area has reached such temperatures – a phenomenon that has occurred only five times in the past 75 years, IMS data indicated.
Temperatures were initially significantly lower in the country’s central beach areas, only reaching 32-34° by noon, but eventually climbed to 40° by the afternoon, according to IMS data. The Lower Galilee and southern Golan Heights experienced temperatures of 37-38°, while stations in the Upper Galilee and the northern Golan Heights measured about 33-35°, the data indicated.
Peak electricity consumption on Wednesday rose above the highest usage recorded for the summer of 2014, Israel Electric reported.
While last year, the peak consumption level reached 11,320 megawatts, Wednesday’s record hit 11,334 megawatts, the company said.
“One of our tasks as the office entrusted with supplying energy to the market is to ensure the protection of our natural gas, electricity and water systems in the face of natural disasters, extreme weather phenomena and threats of war to avoid a severe blow, morally and functionally,” said National Infrastructure, Energy and Water Minister Yuval Steinitz on a tour of Israel Electric’s national headquarters on Wednesday. “It is a national mission to bring the system to a situation in which it is not crippled even in times of emergency.”
With warnings of potential haze for Thursday, Magen David Adom advised those suffering from respiratory problems, as well as cardiac patients and pregnant women, to stay indoors with the windows closed. In addition, the rescue service recommended refraining from engaging in sporting activities outdoors.