Efrat Ginsburg, 4, and her two-year-old brother, Zvi, were killed in a fire that broke out Tuesday night in their apartment in a building on Knesset Mordechai Street in Beitar Illit.
The fire broke out around 9 PM in the apartment, where five children were staying. The children’s parents were out-of-town at the time and rushed back home, to receive the bitter news of their children’s death. Five injured children were evacuated to Shaare Zedek Hospital in Jerusalem, including two six-year-olds. During the night, four were released from hospital and one remained under observation.
Neighbors and Ichud Hatzola volunteers from were first at the scene and began to rescue the trapped children.
“We smelled thick smoke, opened the door, and saw that the smoke was coming from the apartment next door,” Itzik, a neighbor, told Channel 2 News. “My wife took one of the girls out and brought her upstairs. Another neighbor managed to enter despite the heavy smoke and rescued two other children.”
According to some eyewitnesses, rescue forces were delayed and arrived only about fifteen minutes after the fire had been reported.
“The firefighting forces arrived relatively late, and were not prepared enough for the event,” Hatzola volunteer Haim Rotter told Channel 2 News. “If not for the civilians and the volunteers who came to the site, more people would have been killed here,” he said.
According to a fireman from Gush Etzion, speaking off the record, the firemen arrived within a few minutes, but the fire had spread very quickly.
The volunteers began to evacuate trapped victims through the porches of adjacent apartments, since the stairway was filled with thick smoke. “We managed to rescue about ten children,” volunteer Yossi Yonah told Channel 2 News. “I tried with all my might to enter the Ginsburg home where the fire broke out but it was no longer possible to enter. We didn’t hear shouts from the house. There was absolute silence in there.”
Finally, the fire and rescue services who had arrived at the scene managed to break into the Ginsburg apartment which was ablaze. They found the two children in critical condition. Shortly afterwards, an MDA team that arrived at the scene pronounced them dead.
The national fire and rescue services rejected local residents’ claims that it took a long time between the initial emergency call and the firefighters’ arrival at the scene. According to them, the call came at 9:08 PM and the firefighters arrived only a few minutes later.
The cause of the fire is still unclear.
The Beitar Illit municipality reported that “welfare department staff, social workers and psychologists of the municipality were called to care for the family. The mayor and his team have been in the area since the beginning of the event and are coordinating the efforts to deal with the tragedy.”