JERUSALEM, Aug 15 (The Remnants) – Wildfires in wooded hills outside Jerusalem sent smoke clouds billowing over the city on Sunday as planes and crews on the ground fought flames that forced the evacuation of several small communities.
Israel’s Magen David Adom national ambulance service reported no serious injuries, and there appeared to be little danger that the fires, some 10 km (6 miles) west of Jerusalem, would reach the city.
Dedi Simchi, Israel’s fire and rescue commissioner, said 12 firefighting planes were deployed along with crews from some 60 fire engines.
“I am glad to say that we managed to prevent entire communities from being burned,” Simchi said in a briefing to Israel’s internal security minister broadcast live on television, some five hours after the fire erupted.
Emergency services said some four villages were evacuated. At the briefing, Simchi said they no longer faced any “critical danger”, although “there are some pockets, where homes have caught fire which we are extinguishing”.
He said crews would remain deployed throughout the night and possibly over the next few days to prevent the fire from spreading, amid high temperatures and strong winds.
Fire brigade and police officials said it was too early to determine the cause of the fire.
Firefighters continue to repel blazes in Jerusalem area
Hundreds still can’t return to their homes * Over 16,000 dunams of forest and brushland gutted by fire.
Firefighters continued on Monday to battle blazes in five locations near Jerusalem as some 3,000 residents had to abandon their homes.
The huge wildfire spread near Jerusalem on Sunday, burning down thousands of dunams of forest and brushland and endangering nearby communities. High temperatures and strong winds helped the fire spread fast to the west of the capital.
The Environment and Health ministries warned on Monday of high levels of air pollution in Mevaseret Zion, Shoresh, Shoeva and Neveh Ilan on the outskirts of Jerusalem. In addition, hiking trails in the area were closed until further notice.
The fire razed some 16,000 dunams, almost four times the amount burned in recent previous fires.
Some 70 squads from the Jerusalem fire department as well as neighboring forces attempted to fight the flames, but the fire was still uncontained in some locations as of Monday afternoon.
Prime Minister Naftali Bennett cut short a Security Cabinet meeting on Sunday for consultations on the fire, followed by a meeting senior officials including Defense Minister Benny Gantz, Public Security Minister Omer Bar Lev, Interior Minister Ayelet Shaked, the chief of police and of fire and rescue services.
Gantz ordered the IDF to assist with the firefighting efforts and the Homefront Command’s national operations room was activated to coordinate forces.
“Everything is black, there is no green,” a resident of Shoeva told Walla. “It’s heartbreaking.”
The fire reached the outskirts of the Eitanim Medical Center, a psychiatric facility in the Jerusalem Hills, and all the patients were evacuated on Sunday but were able to return on Monday morning.
Two individuals who went missing from the facility were found safe and well.
Some people were treated for smoke inhalation but were not hospitalized.
One firefighter who fell over was treated in hospital for injuries to his limbs.
More than 2,000 residents of Beit Meir, Kesalon, Ramat Raziel and Givat Ye’arim were evacuated as flames reached some homes. Two in Ramat Raziel were gutted by the flames.
Kesalon’s residents were permitted to return as of Monday morning.
Bennett told security forces that if they were in doubt about whether evacuation is necessary, it should be done without question.
Fire Department spokesman Dedi Simhi said on Sunday night that “the fire was 100% caused by people.” However, he stated that was still unclear whether this was done deliberately or by accident. “We don’t know yet,” he said, and added that “first we will get the fire out then tomorrow we’ll start our investigation.”
Itzik Shmuli, a former minister who was among those evacuated, took to Twitter to share his experience, talking about what to take when you have five minutes to pack up the most important things.
“It’s at a horrifying moment like this when a great fire is threatening to destroy and burn the center of your life that you learn to appreciate all the more and hold tight to what you have managed to pack in five minutes: your partner and two wonderful children, three cats and some emotional souvenirs from an entire life,” he wrote.
“Thank you to our firefighters who have been fighting this fire for a few hours, may we get through this safely,” he added.
דווקא ברגע כזה מצמרר שאש אדירה מאיימת לכלות ולשרוף את מרכז חייך שנותר מאחור אתה לומד להעריך עוד יותר ולחבק חזק את מה שהצלחת לארוז בחמש דקות: בן זוג ושני ילדים מדהימים, שלושה חתולים ומזכרות מרגשות מחיים שלמים.— איציק שמולי (@ishmuli) August 15, 2021
תודה לכבאים שלנו שנאבקים כאן כבר כמה שעות, שנעבור את זה בשלום.. 🙏🏻 pic.twitter.com/LojfOqxNrp