Wildfires burn across Israel amid hot, dry conditions; dozens of homes evacuated

13 November 2021

Published by https://www.timesofisrael.com/

ISRAEL – Dozens of families across the country were evacuated from their homes on Saturday as wildfires broke out amid hot, dry and dusty conditions.

Strong easterly winds not only fanned the flames but also brought down a tree in a park in the central village of Burgeta, moderately injuring a 14-year-old girl.

Fires were reported in a number of locations throughout the day, with emergency teams called in from across the country.

Families living on the outskirts of Zeitan were evacuated from their homes on Saturday afternoon when a fire began to close in on the central Israel community.

There were no immediate reports of damage or injuries and police later said that parts of the fire had been brought under control.

However, the head of the Zeitan residents’ association told the Kan public broadcaster that the situation was chaotic.

“It’s total chaos. They evacuated the first row [of houses] and only now are we beginning to understand what is happening. It is not under control and is a complete mess,” Asher Gerbi said.

Earlier, all the residents of the northern village of Gita — 75 households — were evacuated due to what fire services declared to be “a real danger” to the community.

A number of hours later they were told they could return to their homes.

“It was decided that residents could return to their homes after the danger to the community passed,” police said in a statement.

Six homes in Gita sustained damage, police said. There were no reports of injuries.

Police said that the council in the nearby town of Jatt had opened its community center to the evacuees.

In the early hours of Saturday, a fire broke out close to the West Bank settlement of Har Adar.

Israel Fire and Rescue Services said 17 teams operated on the ground, with firefighting planes providing aerial support. That blaze was eventually brought under control.

A fire also broke out near the central city of Rosh Ha’ayin, leading police to close Route 444 and directing motorists to take other routes.

The fires came as numerous national parks were closed to hikers over the weekend amid fears of large wildfires.

The Nature and Parks Authority announced Friday that all hiking paths in the Carmel Forest region (except for the Me’arot River reserve) were off-limits, as well as all trails in the Judean Mountains and Shfela region. The Amud Stream reserve in the Galilee was also closed, and all hiking on paths along the coast was prohibited between Hadera in the north and Zikim in the south.

On Saturday, officials said the Tel Dan nature reserve would also be shut down. A number of beaches at the Sea of Galilee were closed due to the high winds.

The closures — effective through Sunday — came as the country was gripped with unseasonably warm weather on Saturday, reaching highs of 89°F (31°C) in the Dead Sea region, 82°F (27°C) in Haifa, and 86°F (30°C) in Tel Aviv.

A dense sandstorm blanketed parts of the country on Saturday afternoon, reducing visibility.

A nationwide fire ban, instituted earlier this week, remains in effect until November 30.

Israel continues to experience above-average temperatures and little rainfall.

Some of Israel’s most devastating fires have come in November and December, including the December 2010 Carmel Fire which claimed 44 lives, and a nationwide outbreak of fires in late November 2016, which left thousands homeless.

The Carmel fire raging through the forest on December 2, 2010. (Gili Yaari/ Flash90)

Israel is still recovering from an August wildfire near Jerusalem which consumed some 25,000 dunams (6,200 acres) of forest, becoming the country’s largest-ever blaze.

At the time, Israel had been sweltering under yet another heatwave with low humidity, providing ideal conditions for the flames to spread.

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