Firefighters were battling blazes across Israel on Wednesday for the second day, as strong winds and dry weather made fighting the fires much harder and air pollution levels rose in affected areas.
A blaze broke out near the settlement of Nataf in the Jerusalem Mountains on Wednesday morning. Twenty-five firefighting crews, among them 200 firefighters from the Home Front Command, were sent to the scene along with four firefighting planes as the strong winds pushed the blaze towards the Jewish community.
While firefighters were able to stop the fire from reaching the settlement, it continued spreading west on Wednesday afternoon and they have yet to gain control over it.
Residents whose houses were close to the fire were evacuated from their homes and found shelter in the nearby Arab village of Abu Gosh. Two houses were burned down while several others suffered damage from the flames.
Police detained four contractor employees working on a road near Nataf on the suspicion that they lit a bonfire that got out of control and caused the large blaze that currently threatens the Jewish community.
It is not clear whether the original fire was an intentional act of arson or a careless mistake.
Following the fires on Tuesday and the weather conditions, acting Fire Commissioner Shimon Ben-Ner issued a fire ban covering near the entire country, which bars lighting bonfires and fires in open fields. Violation of the ban carries a six month jail sentence or an NIS 74,300 fine.
A brush fire broke out Wednesday afternoon on route 35, near a gas storage facility between Kiryat Arba and the Jewish community of Adora, close to Telem. Three firefighting crews who were sent to battle the blaze were able to gain control of the fire. Police closed the road was closed to both directions.
Also on Wednesday afternoon, a large brush fire broke out near a school in Nazareth. Four firefighting crews were called to the scene after smoke got into the school. The firefighters were able to stop the process of the fire, and there is currently no danger it would continue spreading.
A fire also broke out in the Karkom area, not far from the nearby bridge that crosses the Jordan River. Five firefighting crews were on the scene.
Meanwhile, five firefighting crews were battling a blaze in Safed, trying to stop it from spreading to the nearby woods.
The fire that raged in Zikhron Ya’akov on Tuesday reignited early Wednesday morning due to the strong winds. Some 50 firefighting teams were in Zikhron Ya’akov battling the blaze with the aid of four firefighting planes, as additional teams came in from nearby districts. Some 100 firefighters from the Home Front Command joined their civilian counterparts.
The firefighters tried to put out the fire during the night, but around 3am the winds picked up, fanning the flames where the blaze had already died. The fire also spread to new areas.
Police blocked entry to three neighborhoods that were evacuated Tuesday to all but firefighting forces, saying residents could not return until Friday.
“The forecast is that residents’ return would not be possible in the next few days either due to the strong winds and mortal danger,” authorities said following a situation assessment that included the Fire Department, the Home Front Command and the municipality.
Some residents returned to their homes on Tuesday despite not getting the all-clear and had to be evacuated once more.
Thirty houses were damaged in the fire, with 20 of them declared unfit for habitation.
The Environmental Protective Ministry noted that high levels of air pollution were registered in the city and recommended residents who have not been evacuated to remain in their homes and seal any openings.
Also on Wednesday morning, three firefighting teams were battling a brush fire on the eastern side of Nahariya. Residents were asked to remain in their homes and seal any openings due to the great amounts of smoke.
In addition, a forest fire broke out in Shefar’am on Wednesday morning, with five firefighting crews battling the flames.