More than 700 residents of Moshav Even Sapir and the Ein Kerem neighborhood near Hadassah University Medical Center in southwest Jerusalem were forced to evacuate their homes Sunday as 50 firefighting teams and eight airplanes worked to control a blaze that threatened the area.
The inferno, which was contained shortly before 8 p.m., is believed to have been started due to negligence by a local farmer, although arson has not been ruled out entirely, according to a Fire and Rescue Services official.
Several homes, at least two buildings and a large chicken coop in Even Sapir were damaged by the blaze, though the hospital was never in imminent danger, the official said. At least three firefighters were treated for smoke inhalation, he added.
Even Sapir resident Itsik Sasson described a chaotic scene as firefighters went door-to-door to evacuate each house in the small community as the blaze drew closer.
“The fire started climbing from the wadi up toward the neighborhood,” said Sasson. “According to what I know now, one house is on fire and a chicken coop was damaged. The fire has entered the community and the police are evacuating residents.”
Sasson continued, “I haven’t seen much because they won’t let me too close to the area, but there is a real frenzy, a big mess - loads of police.”
Police spokeswoman Luba Samri said the entire moshav was evacuated and cordoned off, and police temporarily closed down Routes 395 and 386 leading to the community, as well as the eastbound lanes of Route 1 toward Jerusalem. Drivers were instructed to use Route 443 as an alternate route to travel from Jerusalem to Tel Aviv until the blaze was contained.
A joint investigation by police and fire rescue officials has been opened into the cause of the fire.
The Environmental Protection Ministry warned of severe air pollution in and around the Even Sapir area because the burning of buildings and their asbestos roofs caused the release of particles that are dangerous to breathe.
Ministry officials advised residents of Even Sapir, Moshav Ora, Aminadav, Tzur Hadassah and southern Jerusalem (Kiryat Menahem, Kiryat Hayovel, Ir Ganim, Beit Hakerem, Ein Kerem and Gilo) to shut their windows and vents and activate air conditioners instead.
However, by 9 p.m., after the fire was contained, they said that a public health threat no longer existed and that residents of the region could go about their routines as normal.
Sunday’s fire comes just over a week after another inferno in Beit Shemesh destroyed roughly 150 hectares (371 acres) of forest, necessitating the largest mobilization of firefighters since the Mount Carmel blaze five years ago.
Meanwhile, more than 30 homes also were evacuated in the Jerusalem neighborhood of Neveh Yaakov Sunday, before firefighters contained a brushfire threatening that community.
Fire crews also contained blazes near the West Bank settlement of Eilon Moreh near Nablus, and temporarily evacuated the Ofer military base outside of Ramallah when a fire broke out there.
With temperatures soaring above 39°C degrees, fire rescue officials are urging residents to use extreme caution when extinguishing cigarettes and camp fires, or using fire in general.Reuters contributed to this report.