Man arrested on suspicion of starting J'lem forest fire

Police believe fire began after trash next to man's house was blown by wind to different areas, erupted into flames and raged out of control.

July 18, 2011 17:38
3 minute read.

Jerusalem fire gallery_11. (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)


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A 50-year-old Jewish man from Moshav Beit Zayit, 7 km. west of Jerusalem, was arrested on Monday afternoon on suspicion of being responsible for the fire in that raged in the Jerusalem Forest the previous day.

Police believe the blaze began in the man’s courtyard, where he had piled trash next to his house, and then was carried by the wind, jumping from place to place before getting out of control.

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Police and fire investigators initially believed that the fire was the result of arson, as it started simultaneously in four areas. “It seems that the fire jumped from place to place, which is why they thought it was arson,” Jerusalem police spokesman Shmuel Ben-Ruby said.

The fire, which burned more than 150 dunams (15 hectares) on Sunday afternoon, was extinguished around midnight. After conducting patrols throughout the night, firefighters announced there was “not even a coal glowing” in the Jerusalem Forest early on Monday morning.

The most damage was around the House of the Forest Ranch, an agriculture attraction and educational center located in the heart of the forest. Firefighters discovered 20 natural gas canisters, some of which had exploded from the heat of the fire. No firefighters were injured by the exploding canisters.

“We had a lot of luck that there weren’t any incidents,” Jerusalem Fire and Rescue Services spokesman Lt. Asaf Abras said.

On Monday afternoon, a small secondary fire broke out near the Tzippori Center in area that had been burned the day before, but it was contained within an hour.

Five firefighters were treated for smoke inhalation. Three workers from Yad Vashem, which has it own firefighting equipment and trained professionals, also suffered from mild smoke inhalation after battling the blaze near the western perimeter of the facility.

The fire did not enter the campus, though hundreds of visitors to the Holocaust museum were evacuated.

MK Yulia Shamolov Berkovich (Kadima), head of the Knesset’s Jerusalem Lobby, called on Jerusalem youth to volunteer to rehabilitate the areas of the Jerusalem Forest that were destroyed. She plans to tour the forest on Tuesday, along with members of Youth for Jerusalem, to see the damage first-hand and to begin work planting new trees.

“Jerusalem belongs to us, and who if not the youth, who are the future generation, should join this important project and donate their time to restore the damage,” said Hila Zisberg, an activist with Youth for Jerusalem.

In a meeting with firefighters on Monday afternoon, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu commended
them for their quick action.

“We avoided a tragedy, the fire was extinguished very quickly and with total cooperation,” he said. Netanyahu added that the state was gathering resources to expand its firefighting capabilities.

Earlier this summer, firefighters in the capital battled a wave of arson in the bushfilled wadis surrounding ultra-Orthodox neighborhoods, set by bored haredi boys who would start small fires and stick around to watch the firefighters put them out, before lighting the same area on fire again.

The Jerusalem fire department is in the midst of meeting with the leaders of various haredi sects, and the rabbis are treating the arson attacks with “the utmost seriousness,” said Abras.

“We can really see the results in the field, there was a decrease, a meaningful decrease, with everything that’s related to the subject of haredim,” he said on Monday.

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