Keren Kayemet L'Israel (KKL-JNF) forestry teams and Israel's Fire and Rescue Services fought at least 176 separate forest fires across Israel on Saturday, amid a severe heatwave felt throughout the country.
In the north of the country alone, 53 fires had to be put out on Saturday. The coastal area saw 32 fires, the greater Jerusalem area 28, the south 24, the central region 22, while the West Bank suffered 14 blazes throughout the day.
Near Acre, traffic was diverted from the Acre East intersection due to thick smoke from a nearby bushfire, according to an Israel Police spokesperson. The fire was later brought under control.
The Fire and Rescue Services listed five major outbreaks of fires around the country throughout the morning.
In the north, a grass fire spread toward Mount Turan and a nearby kibbutz. Eight planes from the Elad firefighting squadron arrived on the scene to contain the fire alongside four ground teams that protected the line of houses.
Firefighters said the fire was under control, some four and half hours after initial reports of its spread. The firefighters successfully diverted the flames away from the nearby kibbutz of Beit Rimon.
North of Ailot, a medium-sized fire spread towards the houses in a town, probably as a result of a fire that spread in a landfill. Four teams from the Nof HaGalil fire station worked to contain the fire.
A large fire threatened Kibbutz Karmiya
In the South, in Kibbutz Karmiya near the Gaza Strip, six teams accompanied by four planes worked to put out a large grass fire that spread towards the Kibbutz's greenhouses. Citizens and hikers who were in the Karmiya grove were evacuated from the scene with the help of the Israel Police. The forces worked in cooperation with KKL firefighting teams and with the help of heavy engineering by the army. In the evening, the fire was brought under control.
"This is a very large fire in which we operate with a large force and with the help of other forces," the Fire and Rescue Service's team chief at the scene described the situation. "There is also a spotting helicopter of the Israel Police at the scene and at this point, I am doing a situational assessment from the air to get a clearer picture of the situation. Happily, up to this stage, there have been no casualties and we were able to evacuate all the citizens from the area with the assistance of the Israel Police."
Towards evening, Fire and Rescue Services announced the preliminary results of an investigation into the causes of the fire. According to the statement, a group of about 100 people had gathered in a field for a game of airsoft and then lit two fires in an open and grassy area in order to barbecue. These fires then got out of control and caused the larger fire.
Three of the group were detained for questioning under suspicion of arson and violating an order not to light a fire in the area. Two cars belonging to members of the group were burned completely.
In the afternoon, a fire broke out near Kibbutz Kfar Etzion in the West Bank. Arson is suspected as the fire was found to have started in several places at once.
"Firefighters from the Yehuda regional station a while ago worked on a fire in the grove of the "Mukhtar's saddle" near Kibbutz Kfar Etzion," Tamir Erez, commander of the Israel Fire and Rescue service's Yehuda Regional Station said.
"The Yehuda regional station was reinforced today with additional teams following the decision of the Israel Fire and Rescue Commissioner to raise the alert level and reinforce the stations. Upon receiving the message, many teams went to the scene and from afar noticed heavy smoke, and the fact that the fire was in an inaccessible area. Due to the terrain conditions, and the spread of the fire with the help of the strong winds, a pair of firefighting planes from the 'Elad' squadron were launched which assisted in the efforts to extinguish the fire."
In the country's center, in the village of Tzur Moshe near Netanya, a grass fire spread towards the first row of houses in the village, the residents were evacuated from their homes as a result. Four planes were launched to the scene and helped stop the spread of the fire in coordination with the ground crews. The Fire and Rescue department reported that as of 1 p.m., there was no perceived danger to the nearby homes.
By the beach, a grass fire spread in the village of Mazraa. The first row of houses was evacuated and no casualties were reported. The firefighters are preparing to take control of the fire.
Police and fire commissioner statements
The Police asked all people to avoid the areas of the fires while firefighters worked to bring the fire under control and locate all the travelers in the area.
The public was asked to obey all commands given by the fire commissioner and in particular not to light fires in parks, forests, nature reserves and gardens.