At first it seemed like the fires that had begun all over Israel were just more of the periodic late summer, pre-rain fires that are almost spontaneous in climates like Israel. A month ago, after a very long dry summer, there was a bit of rain, but since then the humidity has been summer-like low, so the first fires were considered “expected.”
But then the experts began to notice that the spread of new fires wasn’t of “natural causes” or patterns, and on the spot investigations showed them to have been set by Arab terrorists, some who have already been caught.
Terrible fires raging in Israel that have now been confirmed by the spokesman of the fire department Yoram Levi as arson attacks. The perpetrators of these crimes have endangered thousands and caused immense damage to people’s homes, lives, and of course the environment. We strongly condemn them. Praying for a swift end to the fires and the safety of all those affected.These fires, like the peculiar lunar calendar of the Moslems, is further proof that they neither own nor love the Land. How can they destroy the flora, fauna and homes here in the Holy Land? They celebrate terror and murder, and this is just another terrorist tool for them.The ray of true light during this terrible time is that Israel is being helped by other countries, which is so rare:
On the fourth day of blazing fires throughout Israel, new eruptions are being reported in the north and in the Jerusalem area. Overnight between Thursday and Friday, Beit Meir, a religious moshav in the Jerusalem hills, some nine miles from Jerusalem, just off the Jerusalem-Tel Aviv highway 1, was evacuated due to a forest fire nearby. 25 firefighting crews with 60 firemen are in the area, struggling to prevent the fire from reaching local homes. Some of the homes have caught fire, though, and sustained damage.
When the Beit Meir locals initially reported the fire, they also reported seeing several suspicious looking people running away and police launched a manhunt. Shortly thereafter one man suspected of involvement with setting the fire was arrested.
Fire investigators are already working in various scenes even as the fires continue to rage, seeking clues to help figure out if a particular fire was started due to negligence or arson. According to Fire Commander Ran Shelef, Head of the Investigations Department in the National Fire and Rescue Authority, the difficulty in establishing whether a fire was set deliberately has to do with the fact that in arson cases the fire destroys most of the evidence. In Haifa, on Thursday, for instance, investigators were certain that at least some of the fires were the result of arson, but they failed to come up with conclusive evidence.
The primary goal in an arson investigation is to locate the origin of the fire, Shelef told Ha’aretz. “In a four to five room apartment you need to reach the one room where the fire started and examine the evidence regarding the cause of the fire.” In an open field this task is much harder, Shelef explained. “The topography is of no help to us, and some of the vegetation is gone. What’s even more difficult to establish are the circumstances – one little match and you got yourself a blaze. You don’t need accelerators, an ignition device or any other special apparatus.”
One of the key clues in such cases, according to Shelef, would be discovering more than one starting point for the fire. “Two starting points that cannot be explained,” he said, would be a dead giveaway for arson.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who visited Haifa to support and thank the hundreds of firefighters who are still fighting the blazes in city neighborhoods that had seen some 65 thousand residents evacuated, also discussed pyroterorism. “Any fire that’s caused by arson, and by incitement to arson – is terrorism for all intent and purposes, and we will deal with it accordingly,” Netanyahu said. “This is my directive to the security forces, police, the GSS, and the IDF: we will repay every act of lawlessness. Anyone who will try or has tried to burn down parts of the State of Israel will be punished to the fullest extent of the law.”
In Beit Meir, Jerusalem District Police Commander, Major General Yoram Halevy, told reporters that “evaluations, the quick arrival of rescue and police forces and an effective deployment of the forces prevented an incident where many could have been hurt. The fire spread at a very fast pace and reached some homes. In a very short time, all the residents were evacuated and we scanned for some who may have been left behind. At this point we have control over the fire and the efforts to put out the fire will continue. Our mission is to allow residents to return to their homes as soon as possible.”
“At this point a suspect has been arrested and taken for an interrogation,” Halevy reported.
10:51 Fires spreading near Nataf / Shaar Hagai — again.
10:32 PM Evacuating homes on Mount Halutz, with one already burnt.
Mount Halutz – also known as Har Halutz, or “Halutz” the community is located in the central Galilee, in the rocky Gush Tefen region, and is part of the Misgav Regional Council district.
Israel Electric Company has just cut the power to Halutz in accordance with orders from Israeli firefighters.
8:43 PM The fire in Emmanuel (Immanuel) is now under control. The fire got as close as 100 meters to the houses, and they almost began to evacuate.
8:36 PM Prime Minister Netanyahu in a briefing on Wednesday: “Every fire caused by arson, or incitement to commit arson, is terrorism for all intents and purposes, and we will bring them to justice.”
8:24 PM Fire near Emmanuel (Immanuel) in the Shomron, started around 20 minutes ago….going straight towards homes. Road closed from Emmanuel to Yakir.
8:09 PM Fire near Binyamin road 465, east of Tzofit, towards Ateret. 4 fire teams on site. No evacuation needed yet.
8:08 PM More than a dozen firefighters and firefighting aircraft are battling a blaze that has broken out in northern Israel in the area surrounding the community of Ein Hashufat. Firefighters are also deployed along the outskirts of the town itself, preparing to block the flames from spreading into the community because the blaze is not yet under control.
Jerusalem district fire and rescue officials say the Shuafat fire is under control. No one injured.
7:53 PM Fire and rescue officials estimate that more than 5,000 hectares of forest have burned, with untold damage to homes, property and nature, plant and animal life.
7:49 PM Power cut off at least until tomorrow morning in the following Haifa neighborhoods: Ramat Hen, Ramat Sapir, Ramat Amogi, Ramat Begin, Ramat Golda, Horev, Old Romema and New Romema.
Beit Sahur Carmel to be evacuated shortly in Haifa, according to Israel Prisons Authority
Fire under control in Shuafat – 2 homes evacuated.
7:45 PM Route 375, Husan Bypass between Beitar Illit and El Khader junction – suspicious object. Traffic halted in both directions. Update: Reopened.
7:43 PM Firefighters battling a brush fire near Shuafat, near depot parking lot … firefighters trying to contain the blaze
7:41 PM Car filled with gasoline discovered in the brush next to a forest — occupants fled.
7:29 PM Overview of the past few hours:
-Israel Prison Service evacuating facilities in Carmel Region.
-Classes at Haifa University halted, cancelled Friday.
-Firefighters working to protect installations of Israel Election Corporation around Jerusalem.
-Traffic halted on Highway 443 at Shilat Junction due to flames.
-Brush fire outbreak in parking lot of a Modi’in train station. Both stops in Modi’in shut down as a precaution.
-Two helicopters and six firefighters scrambled to Maccabi’im checkpoint as blaze spreads toward shopping center.
-Fires in Kibbutz Harel near Beit Shemesh, Oranit, Yitzhar, Rishonim Interchange, Savion Junction, Umm al-Fahm
-Fire in Hadera at a power station when dry brush “ignited” … fire approximately 300 meters from Yitzhar, with residents helping firefighters contain the blaze.
-Fire in areas near Yuvalim and Misgav in northern Israel.
-Four firefighting aircraft from Cyprus and Greece.
-Aircraft arrived with 49 crew members, included one Air Tractor from Cyprus and two Bombardiers and one Hercules from Greece.
7:15 PM Fires restarting at Shaar Hagai
6:52 PM Fire in woods near Ein Hod
6::49 PM Firefighter evacuated from Neve Ilan, Lightly injured.
6:49 PM Keren Kayemet looking for volunteers with 4x4s to help look for fires. Call Meir Tzafriri 053-850-0936 if you can volunteer.
6:47 PM View from a helicopter above the Neve Ilan area
6:38 PM Fire near Beit Safafa (Jerusalem)
6:04 PM Pre-arson setup found in Derech Karmit in Jerusalem.
5:57 Fire in woods near Nirit, houses on fire. Evacuations have begun.
5:52 PM Prison 6 being evacuated
5:44 PM Fire in forest west of Adura
5:43 Communities in the south opening up their homes to evacuees from Haifa.
5:35 PM: Fire in Ein Shofet forest
5:30 PM Fire outside town of Yitzhar
5:25 Damon prison to be evacuated.
5:19 PM Fire in Hadera – Givat Olga – not a large fire, no one in danger.
5:21 PM IDF cancels leave. Soldiers to stay on base in ready to fight terror fires.
5:07 PM Fire in park near Nazareth Ilit.
5:00 PM MK Oren Hazan has called for life imprisonment for pyroterrorists.
4:55 PM: Firestarter kit found – Students at Hesder Yeshiva Ohr HaYeshu’a in the Neve Sha’anan neighborhood in Haifa caught a youth making cardboard boxes to use as kindling to start a fire at Givat HaShivshevet between the Grande Mall and the Romema neighborhood. The youth fled and the “brush fire” was extinguished.
4:50 PM: Ramat Gilad – Land mines explodes due to heat from nearby flames
4:17 PM: Route 55 closes, in the direction of Kedum from Karnei Shomron
3:41 Firefighters trying to keep Highway 1 (Jerusalem – Tel Aviv) open as fire rages near Shaar Hagai.
3:21 PM Fire near Oranit, Yishpro Center / Modiin railway line, Maaleh Livona, Maaleh Efrayim, Har Bracha, Road 55 – Near Nabi Alias.
On Wednesday night, Police Commissioner Ronnie Alshich and Internal Security Minister Gilad Erdan (Likud) met with security officials to evaluate suspicions that some of the fires that have been raging throughout Israel this week were the caused by arson. The debate resulted in a decision to increase police presence significantly in open areas near towns and villages, utilizing Border Guard forces. According to police, spreading law enforcement officers outside civilian enclaves will deter arson and enable quick detection of newly set fires.
Education Minister Naftali Bennett (Habayit Hayehudi) twitted on Wednesday: “Only someone this country doesn’t belong to is capable of burning it.” Earlier, MK Anat Berko (Likud) noted in her Facebook page that the anti-terrorism law imposes enhanced sentencing for nationalistic arson.
One of the suspicious fires this week has been the worst of them, in the town of Zichron Yaakov on Mt. Carmel, were some 200 firefighters, including ten planes, finally managed to bring the multiple fires under control “completely and officially” Wednesday night. Twelve homes sustained severe damage, in a fire that lasted four days and was fanned by unusually strong winds.
In Nataf, a communal village in the Judean Mountains, twelve miles west of Jerusalem and just west of the “green line,” four construction workers were arrested Wednesday for suspicion of negligence that caused a major fire. The four, who’ve been paving a road near Nataf, allegedly started a campfire at night, which spread to the community nearby.
The current count is of 220 separate fires, 189 of them in open areas. Officials estimate that new fires will start on Thursday as well, due to the unusual weather. Israel has approached foreign countries for help in sending firefighting planes and so far received a positive response from Italy, Greece, Cyprus and Romania.
In Haifa, a fire has been spreading toward cars and buildings on Thursday. The fire in Nataf is getting stronger and has reached nearby Neve Ilan. On Thursday morning a new forest fire erupted near the Arab city of Umm al-Fahm, and local residents are preparing to evacuate. Route 443 from the Tel Aviv area to Jerusalem has been blocked at Modi’in, in the wake of a fire and was reopened a short time later. Sixty families who have been evacuated from the community of Talmon in Binyamin were allowed to return to their homes after the fire there had been brought under control. In Gilon, a communal settlement in west of Karmiel in northern Israel that has been evacuated, firefighters reached partial control over the fire. And the fire at an evacuated IDF outpost outside Naveh Yair was brought under control. A soldier is suspected of causing that fire by throwing a burning cigarette on the ground.
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan said Wednesday that they would ask Greece, Croatia, Cyprus and possibly Turkey to send firefighting aircraft overnight to help Israeli crews subdue brush fires that continue to rage around the country.
Weather forecasts for Thursday indicate continued high winds and low humidity, leading fire and police officials to fear that additional fires could break out. Israel Police aircraft conducted dozens of firefighting sorties Wednesday, but officials fear a spike in fire activity tomorrow could overwhelm Israeli capabilities.
As of this writing, fire crews successfully pushed the fire raging near the Jerusalem-area community of Nataf away from the community, and rescue crews had allowed residents to return to their homes. Fire teams worked to ensure the fire didn’t reignite near the town.
Also Wednesday, fires broke out in Karkom, near Tiberias.
By 5 p.m. police aircraft had assisted ground crews with some 70 sorties, totaling dozens of flying hours. Airborne crews dropped approximately 30 cubic meters of fire retardant and 200 tons of liquid on the fires.
In addition, Israel Parks and Nature Authority director Shaul Goldstein said Authority inspectors have been assisting fire crews battle the Zichron Yaakov and Nataf fires since Tuesday. Thus far the fires have destroyed thousands of dunams of wild brush.
“These are terrible scenes to look at,” Goldstein said while touring the site at one flash point. “A whole world has been burnt. Animals and a rich plant world that we couldn’t manage to protect. More than the stiff punishments that should be meted out to the people responsible, we must give deep explanations to the public. These fires are not predestined.
“Over the past two years the Parks and Nature Authority has constructed more than 1,000 dunams of buffer lines at a cost of NIS 600,000 ($154,600)… I call on the government to fund [additional] buffer lines and to maintain them in open areas,” Goldstein added.
Forest fires and other blazes around the State of Israel continued to burn Tuesday night, with hundreds of firefighting teams and aircraft engaged in keeping the flames at bay.
Police Commissioner Roni Alsheikh told reporters Tuesday evening that at least two more days would be required to bring the series of brush and forest fires under control, given the unseasonable hot, dry weather conditions, combined with the high winds that made it difficult to control the spread of the flames.
Late Tuesday night, at least four fires were still burning out of control in Zichron Yaakov, Kiryat Gat, Gush Etzion and the Western Galilee. More than 200 homes in Zichron Yaakov, south of Haifa had all been evacuated due to the fires. At least 19 people were treated for smoke inhalation, and three were hospitalized at Hillel Yaffe Medical Center in Hadera. Twelve homes were destroyed, and another eight homes were damaged.
Health officials advised the residents of Zichron Yaakov who returned to their homes to remain indoors with windows closed, in order to avoid inhaling smoke. In several areas, the electricity was still disconnected as an extra precaution.
In the small community of Dolev in the Binyamin region, firefighters finally managed to get the blaze under control at about 11 pm Tuesday night, but residents had not yet been allowed to return to their homes, due to the thick smoke still emanating from the site.
Firefighter accessing water to battle the flames.
Residents in the Gush Etzion community of Geva’ot also faced a risk when fires broke out in nearby forest early Tuesday afternoon. Although no evacuation orders were issued, Firefighters were engaged in battling those blazes for most of the afternoon.
Geva’ot forest fire.
Fires were also reported near Kfar Vradim, and in the western Galilee, about 10 kilometers east of Nahariya, near the Lebanese border. A blaze also broke out near the Haifa suburb of Nesher, and in Hadera, south of the port city, earlier in the day.
The fires followed another blaze overnight between Monday and Tuesday in a forest to the north of Bet Shemesh, near the Latrun Monastery. Residents of Neve Shalom -Wahat al-Salam, a mixed Jewish-Arab settlement, were evacuated but fire crews extinguished the fire by early Tuesday. Residents returned to their homes around mid-day.
Shortly after 10 pm, fire officials reported that a brush fire broke out near the southern Israeli city of Kiryat Gat, 20 kilometers east of Ashkelon. Fire crews from both cities reported to the site.
Kibbutz Revadim in southern Israel, along the coastal plain, was also battling a massive blaze Tuesday night.
Dairy barn seen with fire in the background at Kibbutz Revadim.
The dairy barn and the chicken coop of the agricultural community were in flames by nightfall, with the blaze still out of control. None of the kibbutz members or firefighters were injured.
Fire in Gush Etzion.
Another brush fire broke out near Kfar Yarka as well.
Andrew Friedman of TPS contributed to this report.