Israel is requesting international aid to combat a massive wildfire that continued to spread on multiple fronts west of Jerusalem for a second day on Monday, forcing hundreds of local residents to evacuate their homes.
Fire Chief Insp.-Gen. Dedi Simchi stressed in a statement to the press on Monday evening that the fire, which has burned nearly 20,000 dunams of land so far, is on the scale of the Carmel Fire which burned large swaths of land in northern Israel in 2010, killing 44 people.
Firefighters have operated at 100 hotspots so far, according to Simchi, who stressed that it was a “great achievement” that only a few houses have burned and no one has been killed.
Some 10 firefighting aircraft and large numbers of firefighters are working to stop the flames.
As the large blazes began rapidly spreading towards nearby towns on Monday afternoon, emergency forces began evacuating hundreds of residents from Shoeva, Givat Ye’arim, Kibbutz Tzova, Ein Rafa and Ein Nakuba. So far, about 2,000 residents have been evacuated from their homes.
Late on Monday, Kibbutz Tzova, Ein Rafa and Ein Nakuba residents were allowed to return to their homes.
Simchi stressed in a statement to the press on Monday evening that the fire was human-caused, although it was still unclear if it was an accident, due to negligence or intentionally sparked.
Israel asked several Mediterranean countries to help fight the fires raging outside of Jerusalem on Monday.Turkey is expected to send a firefighting plane to aid Israeli efforts after Israel accepted the country's offer to help, Ynet reported early Tuesday.
The Foreign Ministry, in conjunction with the Public Security Ministry, sent requests to Greece, Cyprus, Italy, France and others.
Simchi emphasized to Foreign Minister Yair Lapid that firefighting planes are needed as soon as possible.
Lapid also spoke with his Greek counterpart Nikos Dendias, who said Greece will help however it can. Israel sent firefighters, planes and other aid to Greece when it battled wildfires earlier this month.
The foreign minister also spoke to his counterpart in Cyprus, Nikos Christodoulides, who agreed to send planes and firefighters.
Earlier Monday, Prime Minister Naftali Bennett instructed the National Security Council to consider asking for international aid.
Likud criticized Bennett, saying he should have asked earlier.
“Why is he waiting? We would have enlisted international aid immediately and not have wasted precious time as he did when he waited six weeks to bring third shots against coronavirus, which were ordered in advance. Human lives are at stake,” the Likud spokesman said, adding a thank you to the firefighters.
Israel Fire and Rescue Services declared a general call up on Monday afternoon to concentrate efforts to fight the growing fire.
On Tuesday morning, six aircraft from Chim-Nir Aviation will join the firefighting efforts.
Large blazes developed and spread near Nahal Tsuba, Mount Eitan, Shoeva and Shoresh due to strong winds on Monday afternoon, according to Israel Fire and Rescue Services. The fire also renewed its force near the Eitanim Medical Center, a psychiatric facility in the Jerusalem Hills. All the patients had been evacuated on Sunday but returned on Monday morning.
Although the fire did place Hadassah-University Medical Center, Ein Kerem, in danger earlier in the evening, intensive efforts by about 15 firefighting trucks and firefighting aircraft prevented the flames from reaching the hospital.
The Nature and Parks Authority announced on Monday that it estimated that firefighting efforts will continue for a few days and that thousands of animals and insects have been injured or killed due to the fire.
Environmental Protection Minister Tamar Zandberg warned on Monday that such fires, extreme weather, floods and climate disasters will become more frequent and powerful in the coming years due to the climate crisis.
“This requires us to prepare completely differently for the impending climate disasters,” said Zandberg. “I am working for the State of Israel to declare a climate emergency. We must define the climate crisis as a strategic threat, which all parties need to prepare for and deal with better. Because from now on it’s going to get worse and worse. There is something to be done, and it needs to be done now.”
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 fire razed some 16,000 dunams by Sunday evening, almost four times the area burned in recent 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 as of Monday afternoon.
Ariella Marsden contributed to this report.