Forest fires ravage Jerusalem after Lag Ba’omer bonfire night

Forest fires ravage Jerusalem after Lag Ba’omer bonfire night

27 May 2016

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Israel — Some 60 homes evacuated in Ramot neighborhood • Two houses damaged in fire, four people lightly injured from smoke inhalation • Over 200 acres lost • Improperly extinguished holiday bonfires spark hundreds of smaller blazes in Jerusalem, Lachish areas.

A wildfire in the Ramot Forest, one of Jerusalem’s natural treasures, ravaged between 200 and 250 acres on Thursday. Strong winds caused the fire to spread quickly, and authorities ordered a rapid evacuation of dozens of families from Ramot whose homes were located nearest the forest.

The fire broke out at approximately 1 p.m., as local firefighters were already busy battling some 180 smaller fires that had resulted from Lag Ba’omer bonfires that had not been properly extinguished. The Mir Forest, which lies between Neve Yaakov and Pisgat Ze’ev in northern Jerusalem, lost nearly 20 acres to one blaze.

When the alarm was sounded about the Ramot fire, dozens of firefighter squads were scrambled to the scene from Jerusalem as well as other districts, along with 13 firefighting aircraft, teams from the Israel Nature and Parks Authority, the Israel Police and many volunteers, all of whom spent hours battling the flames.

It took firefighters until Thursday evening to get the fire under control, and only then were the residents allowed to return to their homes. For hours afterward, heavy black smoke hung over the area.

Some 60 homes in Ramot were evacuated. The community leadership immediately took action to help the residents and opened its emergency center, which took in 120 people. Local volunteers were on hand to provide assistance to anyone in need. S., who lives on Derech HaHoresh Street, said, “When they told us we had to be evacuated, I told my kids they could each take three things that were important to them. I took tefillin, a tallit and the cat. One of my daughters took a diary, a book and the doll she sleeps with.”

Liat Gretz, another resident who moved into her home only a month ago, said, “The whole forest is burnt, black and smoky. There’s a suffocating stench in the houses, and we found black bits scattered on the balconies and in the gardens. We still can’t open the windows, and we’re shut in with the air conditioning on.”

Magen David Adom medics treated four people who were lightly injured from smoke inhalation during the Ramot fire. Three had to be taken to the hospital. Two homes were damaged.

While the Ramot fire raged on, fires were also spreading to Emek Haarazim near Mevasseret Zion and breaking out in Abu Ghosh, Gilo and Har Homa. Some residents of those areas were also evacuated.

A number of firefighting teams spent Thursday night in the area, working to ensure that the blazes had been fully extinguished and would not reignite.

On Friday, investigators from the Jerusalem Fire and Rescue Services were slated to look into the circumstances that caused the Ramot fire, although the working assumption was that it was the result of Lag Ba’omer bonfires that were left burning.

The Jerusalem area wasn’t the only hotspot. The Lachish region also saw a number of fires on Thursday, with several firefighting squads from Ashkelon and Kiryat Gat working throughout the afternoon to put out a large brush fire on Moshav Ahuzam and a building fire on Moshav Shalva.

Firefighters from the Ashdod, Gan Yavne, and Kiryat Malachi stations were scrambled to put out a brush fire at Ezrikam. Fires were also reported in open areas on a number of moshavim: Givati, Yanon, Merkaz Shapira, Be’er Tuvia, Sde Uzia and Timorim. Lachish District Police were deployed to these locations to provide security for residents. Firefighters eventually put out the blazes, and no injuries or damage were reported.

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