J’lem firefighters deal with wave of post-holiday blazes

First responders say Lag Ba’omer led to spate of arson in ultra-Orthodox neighborhoods; firefighters have had to put out nearly 50 fires.

fire in haredi neighborhood_311 (photo credit: Asaf Abras)
fire in haredi neighborhood_311
(photo credit: Asaf Abras)
Children in ultra-orthodox neighborhoods in the Jerusalem area have recently found a new form of entertainment: starting small brush fires, and watching firefighters come to put them out.
Since Lag Ba’omer a few weeks ago, firefighters have dealt with nearly 50 small fires set by groups of children between the ages of 5 to 14 in open areas filled with weeds and brush near haredi neighborhoods, including Neve Yaakov and Ramat Shlomo.
In some cases, the Jerusalem firefighters spokesman said, the children stay at the site and taunt the firefighters that they’ll have to return in a few hours to put out a new blaze.
“Our immediate need is to save lives, and if I need to go there and waste time, it takes away from saving lives,” said Asaf Abras, the Jerusalem firefighters spokesman. “It’s not just about a waste of manpower – we’re also talking about thousands and thousands of liters of water,” he added.
These fires are unrelated to a teenage haredi arsonist who set 15 fires in the ultra-Orthodox neighborhood of Mea Sha’arim around Shavuot. The teenager was arrested and there have been no subsequent arson attacks in the neighborhood.
In an effort to stop the wave of brushfire arson attacks, Jerusalem firefighters met on Monday night with the Admor of the Kaliv Hassidic community, Admor Menachem Mendel Taub, who promised he would appeal to the community.
According to a document obtained by The Jerusalem Post, he plans to address the leaders of the community schools as well as parents’ committees, in order to have them convince students to stop setting the fires.
The Admor also created a special prayer for the firefighters to “honor their important work,” the document read, similar to his prayers for the police and paramedics.
Other possible solutions for stopping the arson attacks discussed by the firefighters and the Admor are increasing possible punishments of minors caught setting fires, including fining the parents NIS 50,000 and sending the minor offender to jail for a short sentence.
The firefighters are also working with Jerusalem City Councilor Shmuel Yitzhaki (Shas) “to turn the attention of these communities to clarify and explain the danger associated with these fires,” said a municipality spokeswoman.