Fire Storms Rage Through Israel

Hundreds evacuated, at least 40 houses burn to the ground as local and foreign firefighters battle Holy Land blazes

Fire Storms Rage Through Israel
Yonatan Sindel/Flash90

Wildfires raged through Israel over the weekend. More than 15,000 dunams (3,700 acres) of forests and communities were impacted as fires swept through Israel as a result of an intense heat wave that hit the country on Thursday. 

By late Saturday evening, over 1,700 fires had been extinguished by firefighters and volunteers around the country. In one of the areas hit hardest, Mavo Modi’im, a community in central Israel, 40 homes were completely destroyed, and dozens were damaged. Forty percent of the adjacent Ben Shemen Forest, one of Israel’s most beautiful, burned down, according to the National Parks Authority.

Some 3,500 people were evacuated from towns and dozens of homes were destroyed during the heights of the blazes as brushfires raged nationwide. On Saturday, a toddler was killed and 14 people injured when a fire broke out in an apartment building in Safed, including the four-year-old brother of the toddler.

Fires blazed around Jerusalem, along the Jordan Valley, as far north as Safed and in Arab communities in Judea and Samaria. An electrical fault is believed to be the reason for at least one of the fires. 

Authorities are still trying to figure out how so many fires erupted during the three day heat wave from Thursday to Saturday. Arson has not been ruled out, though Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan said he did not think most of the fires were the work of arsonists. Several fires also broke out in the Gaza region over the weekend as a result of terrorists’ firebombs sent over the border into Israel. 

The sharav, or desert heat wave, that hit Israel on Thursday saw temperatures in Tel Aviv and the northern city of Haifa reach 40 degrees Celsius (104 F). In the southern city of Beersheva, temperatures rose to 44 degrees (111 F), while the Dead Sea region experienced 48 degrees (118.5 F). 

The forceful sharav winds coming up from the south spread the blazes quickly across the country. The blessed rains Israel experienced this year brought an abundance of undergrowth that fed the fires causing them to spread rapidly across the country.

International help arrived from Mediterranean neighbors Greece, Croatia and Italy. Egyptian and Cypriot firefighting jets joined Israeli airplanes in extinguishing the flames. Russia and the Palestinian Authority offered support in a telephone conversation, according to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

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