Wave of arson attacks hits south Jerusalem

In May alone, firefighters were called out for 1,759 incidents; authorities believe youths responsible for incidents.

PACKET OF MATCHES at scene of J'lem fire 370 (photo credit: Yossi Shahar/Jerusalem Fire and Rescue)
PACKET OF MATCHES at scene of J'lem fire 370
(photo credit: Yossi Shahar/Jerusalem Fire and Rescue)
A rash of suspected arson attacks in open areas around southeast Jerusalem has firefighters scrambling to find a way to stop the fires, believed to have been set by area youths.
In the month of May, firefighters dealt with 1,759 blazes in open areas around that part of the capital, according to Jerusalem Fire and Rescue Services spokesman Asaf Abras. Considering that the Jerusalem district usually deals with about 8,000 such events during the entire year, the number is staggering.
Abras said firefighters had opened 200 investigations into suspected cases of arson since May, and in half of the cases were able to positively identify the source of the fire as having been arson. Sometimes multiple fires are considered part of the same investigation.
Most of the blazes are around the Arnona, Armon Hanatziv, Jebl Mukaber and Sur Bahir neighborhoods. Abras said the fires were so frequent that firefighters often were called back to the same area less than 15 minutes later to deal with another outbreak.
Two suspects aged 14 and 15 were arrested last week in connection with the fires, but since then Abras noted that the blazes had not stopped, leading investigators to believe there could be a large group involved.
Each fire costs thousands of shekels in manpower and equipment, even small outbreaks. According to Abras, a firefighting crew uses at least 3,000 liters of water for a small fire. Sometimes, multiple crews are called to battle forest fires, which can rapidly grow and rage out of control.
Last summer, firefighters dealt with an epidemic of arson in the haredi community, with groups of young boys repeatedly setting fires in open areas. They would watch the firefighters battle the blaze and then taunt them, saying they’d be called back to the same place in less than an hour.
Firefighters initiated a number of meetings with community leaders and rabbis, and made presentations at yeshivot and schools. Abras said they received “full cooperation and support” from the rabbis. This year there has been an 80% decrease in suspected arson in haredi neighborhoods.
The spokesman noted that because this year’s arson attacks seemed to be coming from non-haredi or Arab neighborhoods, he was not sure if meetings with community leaders would produce such effective results. He also encouraged people who live in areas near open fields or abandoned lots to make sure that the spaces around their homes were maintained and cleared of dead plants and other debris to prevent fires from jumping from forests to their neighborhoods.