Firefighters continued on Monday to battle blazes in five locations near Jerusalem as some 3,000 residents had to abandon their homes.
The huge wildfire spread near Jerusalem on Sunday, burning down thousands of dunams of forest and brushland and endangering nearby communities. High temperatures and strong winds helped the fire spread fast to the west of the capital.
The Environment and Health ministries warned on Monday of high levels of air pollution in Mevaseret Zion, Shoresh, Shoeva and Neveh Ilan on the outskirts of Jerusalem. In addition, hiking trails in the area were closed until further notice.
The fire razed some 16,000 dunams, almost four times the amount burned in recent previous fires.
Some 70 squads from the Jerusalem fire department as well as neighboring forces attempted to fight the flames, but the fire was still uncontained in some locations as of Monday afternoon.
Prime Minister Naftali Bennett cut short a Security Cabinet meeting on Sunday for consultations on the fire, followed by a meeting senior officials including Defense Minister Benny Gantz, Public Security Minister Omer Bar Lev, Interior Minister Ayelet Shaked, the chief of police and of fire and rescue services.
Gantz ordered the IDF to assist with the firefighting efforts and the Homefront Command’s national operations room was activated to coordinate forces.
“Everything is black, there is no green,” a resident of Shoeva told Walla. “It’s heartbreaking.”
The fire reached the outskirts of the Eitanim Medical Center, a psychiatric facility in the Jerusalem Hills, and all the patients were evacuated on Sunday but were able to return on Monday morning.
Two individuals who went missing from the facility were found safe and well.
Some people were treated for smoke inhalation but were not hospitalized.
One firefighter who fell over was treated in hospital for injuries to his limbs.
More than 2,000 residents of Beit Meir, Kesalon, Ramat Raziel and Givat Ye’arim were evacuated as flames reached some homes. Two in Ramat Raziel were gutted by the flames.
Kesalon's residents were permitted to return as of Monday morning.
Bennett told security forces that if they were in doubt about whether evacuation is necessary, it should be done without question.
Fire Department spokesman Dedi Simhi said on Sunday night that “the fire was 100% caused by people.” However, he stated that was still unclear whether this was done deliberately or by accident. “We don’t know yet,” he said, and added that “first we will get the fire out then tomorrow we’ll start our investigation.”
Itzik Shmuli, a former minister who was among those evacuated, took to Twitter to share his experience, talking about what to take when you have five minutes to pack up the most important things.
“It’s at a horrifying moment like this when a great fire is threatening to destroy and burn the center of your life that you learn to appreciate all the more and hold tight to what you have managed to pack in five minutes: your partner and two wonderful children, three cats and some emotional souvenirs from an entire life,” he wrote.
“Thank you to our firefighters who have been fighting this fire for a few hours, may we get through this safely,” he added.
דווקא ברגע כזה מצמרר שאש אדירה מאיימת לכלות ולשרוף את מרכז חייך שנותר מאחור אתה לומד להעריך עוד יותר ולחבק חזק את מה שהצלחת לארוז בחמש דקות: בן זוג ושני ילדים מדהימים, שלושה חתולים ומזכרות מרגשות מחיים שלמים. תודה לכבאים שלנו שנאבקים כאן כבר כמה שעות, שנעבור את זה בשלום.. pic.twitter.com/LojfOqxNrp— איציק שמולי (@ishmuli) August 15, 2021
Lahav Harkov contributed to this report.