Isreal — A bush fire which reports said was sparked by an army live-fire exercise raged through a park in the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights on Thursday, scorching an ancient archaeological site.
As hundreds of hectares went up in smoke, Gamla National Park staff evacuated a colony of griffon vultures when the flames approached their enclosure.
Media reports said flames and soot blackened 1st century archaeological remains nearby, but the extent of the damage was still unclear.
Firefighter Yair Elkayim, interviewed on Israel’s Channel Two television, described it as “a mega-incident, a mega-fire.”
Other firefighters and the television report said the blaze was started by a live-fire exercise at a nearby army training area, which set alight to undergrowth and scrub that was already tinder-dry in the hot, arid weather.
Channel One quoted a military statement as saying that the fire broke out on Wednesday “apparently during an exercise in the area.” It said soldiers put out the flames, but because of the heatwave fire broke out again on Thursday.
Gamla is the site of an ancient Jewish town destroyed in 67 CE during a revolt against Roman rule.
According to Jewish historian Flavius Josephus, Roman soldiers killed 4,000 of the cliff-top town’s 9,000 defenders and the remainder committed suicide by hurling themselves into a canyon below.