Deddi Simchi, head of Israel’s firefighting corps on Thursday, the eve of lag B’Omer, banned lighting the holiday’s traditional bonfires “due to extreme conditions that increase the likelihood of flammable incidents.”
Simchi’s April 29 signed decree bans lighting fires in open areas from Tuesday, April 27, at 8:00 AM to Sunday, May 2, at 8:00 PM (so if you lit a bonfire last Tuesday, you should stop at once).
The ban was imposed on the entire country, except in the area south of Highway 25, which begins northwest of Nahal Oz at the border with the Gaza Strip, and it passes through Netivot, Beersheba, and Dimona. It should be noted that the fires near Nahal Oz are often started by folks from across the Gaza border, who may or may not adhere to bans issued by Deddi Simchi.
It should be noted that in January the chairman of the Firemen’s Union, Avi Ankori, was brought up on disciplinary charges for exploding at Simchi in a public forum, yelling: “Deddi, stop lying to the workers, be real, not a coward, a liar, and a fool.” So, it’s ain’t so hunki dori with those firefighting troops.
Earlier this week, Fire and Rescue Commissioner Simchi said that the “fire and rescue system is on high alert and operational readiness to promote a life-saving response to any fire and incident. Due to the many dangers and threats to public safety, lighting fires is permitted in regulated areas approved by the authorities only. You can celebrate, keep the tradition and also show responsibility and caution.”
That didn’t sound cowardly or foolish at all. Especially since every year in Israel on Lag B’Omer, an average of 550 people suffer burns and bruises.
Bonfires will be permitted on Lag B’Omer in areas that have been prepared for this purpose by the local municipalities with the approval of the National Fire and Rescue Authority.
As to the multiple bonfires which are set aflame on Mt. Meron on the holiday, Simchi noted that “special conditions will be set by the commander of the Northern District.”
On Thursday afternoon, hundreds of thousands of Israelis are expected to pack Mt. Meron to celebrate the yahrzeit of Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai. Lag B’Omer celebrates the end of a plague that took down 24,000 students of Rabbi Akiva, but Chassidic and Cabalistic sources also connect that even to the plague that took down 24,000 Israelites at the incident at Ba’al P’or (Numbers 25), which ended with the execution of the prince of the tribe of Shimon – hence another connection to Shimon Bar Yochai.
Last year, the Corona pandemic prevented Jews from assembling on Mt. Meron, and this year there has been a disagreement between the health ministry and police officials over permitting the packed event to take place, even after more than 5 million Israelis have received two doses of the vaccine.
A senior health ministry official who asked to remain anonymous told Kan 11 News that “whoever goes up to Meron should know that his blood is on his head.”
Starting tomorrow Thursday, weather conditions including dryness, low humidity, and strong winds will prevail, all of which are significant factors in the spread of wildfires. Firefighters are holding inspection tours around the country from Thursday to Friday morning, in collaboration with the local authorities, KKL-JNF, and the Israel Nature and Parks Authority. In addition, volunteer units will operate throughout the country.
The Elad Air Firefighting Squadron will be on full operational alert and at first light on Friday will carry out initiated patrols over areas with combustion potential. In addition, the different districts will operate thermal drones to identify hotspots in open areas and forests. The Dan and Jerusalem districts will operate their special motorcycle units.