Fires rage as heatwave sweeps country

Trees fall on power lines causing blazes across Israel; strong late afternoon heat expected to break.

general fire 224.88 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski  [file])
general fire 224.88
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski [file])
Firefighters were called out to tackle several blazes around the country on Monday as extremely hot and dry conditions ignited fires and powerful desert winds fanned their flames. The high winds also felled trees and electric poles, blocking roads. A row of trees was knocked over by high winds and blocked a road in Sderot, while in the nearby Sha'ar Hanegev local authority, power lines were brought down, sparking a blaze in a forest outside Kibbutz Nahal Oz. In Kiryat Gat's industrial zone, electric poles were knocked onto a road. Fires were also reported in Ashdod, Kiryat Malachi, and Kfar Harif, where palm trees were burned down and structures were threatened by fire. Firefighters successfully brought the blazes under control. A large blaze erupted in Kfar Chabad, south of Tel Aviv, engulfing three apartments before spreading to a forest. The fire began when a tree fell on a power line, knocking it to the ground and sparking the blaze. Winds then helped the flames to spread. Firefighters also tackled wildfires in the Sharon District and the Western Galilee, where the fire threatened a youth center at one point . "Our crews are in the field - access to the fire is difficult," Western Galilee Fire Department spokesman Shmulik Fanco told The Jerusalem Post. However, he added, "the winds have started to die down, and this is working in our favor." The high volume of sand in the air blocked the sun and affected airports. Sde Dov airport in north Tel Aviv temporarily shut down due to poor visibility, and Ben-Gurion Airport went on a poor-visibility alert. Toward evening, however, visibility improved, the winds died down and the temperature dropped. Meanwhile, the high winds and dust-filled air brought a dozen or more patients to the emergency room at Hadera's Hillel Yaffe Hospital - including a woman in her third month of pregnancy who was moved to the general intensive care department. She had to be attached to a respirator and given drugs to make her unconscious; she was stable at the end of the day. Complaints about respiratory problems rose far above the norm as dust entered the lungs of asthmatics and allergy sufferers. Dr. Jalal Ashkar, head of the emergency medicine department, advised people sensitive to dust and with breathing problems, as well as young children, pregnant women and the elderly, to stay indoors as much as possible during hamsin weather. Meanwhile, Tuesday is World Asthma Day. The voluntary organization Linshom (To Breathe) called on the Health Ministry to begin monitoring and supervising health facilities that treat the country's 400,000 asthma patients, 60 percent of whom are under the age of 18. The facilities should have national standards to improve the level of care and suit treatment to the patients' conditions, as is done with cancer and AIDS, Linshom said.