For the third straight day, more than 40 firefighting teams are working to contain and extinguish a blaze that is spreading with the aid of strong winds toward Sha’ar Hagai and the village of Neve Ilan in the Jerusalem area. Concurrently, additional fires have broken out in Haifa and other areas in the north leading to evacuations and damages.
In the Jerusalem area, firefighters battled flames all night in the forest while trying to protect Neve Ilan, Highway 1 and vital installations of the Israel Electric Corporation.
The spreading fire halted traffic on Route 443 at Shilat Junction and caused residents in the Modi’in area to remain indoors.
Six firefighters and two helicopters were scrambled to the Maccabim area checkpoint to stop the blaze from spreading towards a shopping center in Modi’in.
In an effort to help Israel contain the fires cropping up throughout the country, four firefighting aircraft arrived from Cyprus and Greece, while additional aircraft are also expected to arrive from Russia, Italy and Croatia.
The four aircraft arrived with 49 crew members and include one Air Tractor from Cyprus and two Bombardiers and one Hercules from Greece. The planes are expected to enter operations immediately and are prized due to their carrying capacity.
Meanwhile, additional fires broke out in Haifa Bay, Hadera, Kibbutz Harel near Beit Shemesh, Yitzhar, Umm al-Fahm and areas near Yuvalim and Misgav in the north of the country.
The fire in Haifa spread from the area near the Paz Bridge and is currently raging in the Romema neighborhood of the city. Two people have already been lightly injured. Four additional fire crews have been dispatched to the area to contain the blaze, while police forces have also been mobilized to evacuate residents.
Haifa University has also begun to gradually evacuate students and faculty.
The fire in Hadera broke out at power station when dry brush ignited. Police and firefighters are on the scene and no injuries have been reported.
Earlier Thursday, Firefighting and Rescue Commission initially allowed 60 families to return to their homes in the settlement of Talmon after they were evacuated during the night. However, following additional fires breaking out, citizens were evacuated once more following assessments on the intensity of the fire and the dangers of smoke inhalation. Additional assistance is currently en route.
Fires approximately 300 meters from the settlement of Yitzhar have prompted residents to assist firefighters in containing the blaze.
Thursday’s weather is not expected to improve, as dry conditions and high winds make for a dangerous combination when it comes to brushfires. Furthermore, the extreme dry conditions are also prompting forecasters to speculate on possible dust storms.
Greece, Cyprus send firefighting aircraft to help Israel battle blazes
Four firefighting aircraft arrived in Israel on Thursday morning from Greece and Cyprus to aid in the battle against the blazes that have been plaguing the country for the past three days.
The four planes—an Air Tractor from Cyprus, two Bombardier 415 aircraft from Greece and a Hercules plane also from Greece—arrived with 49 crew members.
The firefighting aircraft are expected to join the battle against the blazes after quick preparations, coordination and a briefing.
Additional planes are expected to arrive from Croatia, Italy and Russia later in the day, including two Russian-made Beriev Be-200 that can land on water and carry 12 tons of fire retardant. The Beriev Be-200 also assisted in putting out a fire on the Carmel Mountain six years ago. Turkey might also send a plane.
The rest of the aircraft are also relatively large and can carry some 10 tons of fire retardant. Their size will also help them fly through the strong winds.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan decided on Wednesday to turn to other nations for help due to the concern Israel’s existing squadron of 14 firefighting aircraft would not be enough to deal with the fires on Thursday that are bolstered by winds that are expected to reach 70 km/h.
During a visit to a control center near Zikhron Yaakov on Wednesday, Netanyahu mentioned the Carmel disaster, saying “We’ve been in this situation six years ago, when we had dozens of planes in the air here. Today, since we have our own squadron, the need is not as big, but there is still a need. Some of our neighbors have already received assistance from us, so this is natural reciprocal relations.”
He also implied that some of the fires may have been a result of arson, even though so far investigations have focused on weather hazards and human error.
Police detained four contractor employees on Wednesday who were working on the paving of road near Nataf in the Jerusalem Mountains, where a big fire broke out. They are suspected of lighting a bonfire that got out of control. They have since made bail.
In addition, an initial investigation into the fire at the Neve Yair IDF base in the Binyamin region raised the suspicion that a soldier failed to put out his cigarette.
On Wednesday, 220 fires were reported across the country, 189 of them in open areas.
Unfortunately, no good news is on the horizon. The strong winds are expected to become stronger in the next few days, reaching speeds of 60-80 km/h, while the dry weather is expected to worsen, with humidity dropping to 5-10 percent—both will bolster the fires.
Itamar Eichner, Roi Yanovsky, Elisha Ben Kimon, Raanan Ben, ZurAmir Ben-David, Meir Turgeman and Eitan Glickman contributed to this story.