Israel’s worst fire in a decade under control, residents returning to homes

Fire officials haven’t indicated whether blaze was deliberately set; Gantz thanks Palestinian firefighters for assistance.

By David Hellerman, World Israel News

Residents of towns outside Jerusalem began returning to their homes on Tuesday to take stock of damage after a massive three-day forest fire was declared under control.

The Fire and Rescue Service said 1,500 firefighters battled seven hotspots over a 52-hour period. Around They were assisted by 20 firefighting aircraft and four teams of firemen from the Palestinian Authority. Requests for assistance sent to Cyprus, Greece, Italy and France were cancelled.

Fire and Rescue Services Commissioner Dedi Simchi confirmed that the blaze was man-made, but didn’t indicate whether it was deliberately set or caused by negligence.

The blaze destroyed 25,000 dunams (more than 6,00 acres) of forest and brushland, greater than even the 2010 Mount Carmel forest fire.

“These sights are hard to watch. I’ve seen how Jerusalem District’s green lung turns black within the flames,” Twito said. “One does not have to be a great botanist to understand that it will take decades to restore what has been lost,” said Jerusalem District fire chief Nisim Tuito.

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For the first time, a Hercules C-130 was pressed into service, dropping fire retardant on the fires. The air craft, one of the largest in Air Force, is a transport plane that wasn’t designed for fighting fires.

The evacuated communities included Ein Kerem, Givat Ya’arim, Ramat Raziel, Kibbutz Tzova, Ein Nakuba, Beit Meir, Shoresh, Eitanim, Ein Rafa and Shoeva. A school and a psychiatric hospital were also forced to evacuate.

At one point, police had ordered the Hadassah Ein Kerem Hospital to prepare for a possible evacuation.

Residents of Kibbutz Tzova avoided damage thanks to a water system that doused a perimeter of forest and brushland with water, keeping the fire away from their homes. Hebrew media reports said other communities are now inquiring about that system.

Foreign Minister Yair Lapid and Defense Minister Benny Gantz thanked the Palestinian Authority for sending firefighters to help.

“I would like to thank Palestinian Authority chairman Mahmoud Abbas for his initiative to send firefighters to assist Israel today. Mutual aid and saving human lives are a common interest for us all,” Gantz tweeted.