Thousands of Israelis may be forced to spend this upcoming Sabbath out of their homes; many no longer have a home to return to.
But miraculously they all have their lives, and there have been no major injuries thus far, despite the swathe of destruction that burned its way from one community to another this Lag B’Omer, on a holiday joyously celebrated — ironically — with bonfires. For many, that didn’t happen this year.
At least 3,500 Israelis were ordered to evacuate their homes on Thursday and late Thursday night, as fires continued to rage across the country and in some cases, spread farther.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had instructed the National Security Council, the Foreign Ministry and the Public Security Ministry to act immediately to bring in aerial assistance to extinguish the fires; Netanyahu spoke with Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan and Fire and Rescue Service Commissioner Dedi Simchi and is continuing to monitor developments and is receiving regular updates.
Italy, Croatia, Greece and Cyprus said they are sending firefighting aircraft to help Israel battle the flames. Israel reached out to friendly nations in the international community to request immediate assistance with fighting the fires.
Britain’s Royal Air Force Griffin HAR.2 is also among those joining the Israeli Air Force aircraft tasked with fighting the flames.
#Breaking: The wildfire in S. #Israel is now out of control, #IsraelAirForce can't suppress it tonight. Firefighter aircraft of foreign air forces including #RoyalAirForce's Griffin HAR.2s (84.SQN) have joined the #IsraelAirForce's AT-802Fs of 249sq at #Hatzor to fight the fire. pic.twitter.com/r5kj3mMO5U
— Babak Taghvaee (@BabakTaghvaee) May 23, 2019
On Thursday afternoon, three residents of the Judean community of Beitar Illit were injured in a fire that affected their building in the town. They were taken to Shaare Zedek Medical Center in Jerusalem to be treated for smoke inhalation; two are listed in good condition, one is listed in fair condition, according to a hospital spokesperson.
Nissim Twito, commander of the Jerusalem District Fire and Rescue Brigade, said firefighters were continuing to battle flames overnight, and had been doing so since early Thursday afternoon.
“The fire fighters are fighting with tremendous strength and courage, in the heavy and exhausting heat of huge fires, and they defend the lives of civilians, their homes and their property,” Twito said in a statement.
“Unfortunately, a considerable number of houses, warehouses and businesses were hit by the huge fires in the Jerusalem district and the Mevo Modi’in area, but if it were not for their courage, and the coolness of the fire fighters who fought the huge flames, many houses and settlements would have been very badly injured,” he pointed out.
“It is important for me to note the close cooperation with the Israel Police, the IDF, the KKL-JNF and other friendly forces, and in particular the civilian discipline of the residents, who listened to the instructions of firefighters,” Twito added.
Udi Gal, Jerusalem District Fire Brigade spokesperson, warned that the fire “is still not under full control, and we are preparing with all our might for the morning when the strong winds will resume and there is a fear that the fire will also resume strongly.”
A huge fire is still raging in the Ben Shemen forest, as well as in the village of Uriya and in MoshavTarom, both of which were also evacuated. The fire has been extinguished in the area of Kibbutz Harel, which was evacuated and where numerous houses were damaged and destroyed, Gal said.
Numerous major arteries were shut down and blocked off; homes were evacuated in Mevo Modiim, Gimzo, Kfar Daniel, Shilat, Kfar Ruth, Neot Kedumim and Kibbutz Karmiya.
Police also blocked the access road between Zikim and Karmiya, where a fire raged and where firefighters battled flames for hours. Zikim Beach was closed to beach-goers due to a fire that was set off by a balloon-launched Molotov cocktail flown into Israel from Gaza by Hamas terrorists.
Eli Cohen, spokesperson for the Fire and Rescue Brigade in the Southern District said two fires broke out in the Eshkol Regional Council district, where KKL-JNF operated to extinguish the flames. Both were investigated and were found to have been caused by Hamas-launched incendiary balloons from Gaza.
Other fires broke out in the area of Gaza Envelope community of Ivim.
The nation’s Pelephone mobile phone company announced that the extreme heat wave combined with the fires around the country has caused intermittent service problems.