Firefighters continue to fight blazes in Jerusalem area

Written by on August 16, 2021

Firefighters continue to fight blazes in five points in the Jerusalem area. Overall, some 3,100 residents have been displaced from their homes.

A huge wildfire spread near Jerusalem on Sunday, burning down thousands of dunams of forest 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 Monday of high levels of air pollutions in the Jerusalem-area towns of Mevaseret Zion, Shoresh, Shoeva and Neveh Ilan. In addition, hiking trails in the area have been closed until further notice. 

The fire razed 4,200 acres, almost four times the amount burned in the previous fires, the statement said.

Some 70 squads from the Jerusalem department as well as neighboring departments attempted to fight the flames, but the fire remains uncontained in several locations.

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. The Homefront Command’s national operations room was activated to coordinate forces.

 PM BENNETT at the command for managing the raging fires in Jerusalem, August 15, 2021 (credit: ALON HACHMON) PM BENNETT at the command for managing the raging fires in Jerusalem, August 15, 2021 (credit: ALON HACHMON)

“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 and were able to return on Monday morning. 

Two individuals went missing as a result of the wildfires. The first is Alex Schechtman, 62, a resident of Elon Moreh, who was located after a few hours, according to Israeli media. The second is Shabtai Shimon Siegel, 25, a resident of Ma’ale Adumim. 

 A view from Baka of the Beit Meir fire (credit: Shira Silkoff) A view from Baka of the Beit Meir fire (credit: Shira Silkoff)

Some people were treated for smoke inhalation but were not hospitalized.

One firefighter fell and injured his limbs. He was taken by United Hatzollah to hospital.

More than 2,000 residents of Beit Meir, Kesalon, Ramat Raziel and Givat Ye’arim were evacuated as flames reached some homes, scorching two in Ramat Raziel to the ground. 

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.

תודה לכבאים שלנו שנאבקים כאן כבר כמה שעות, שנעבור את זה בשלום..

— איציק שמולי (@ishmuli) August 15, 2021

A view of the smoke of the Beit Meir fire from Modiin (credit: YONAH JEREMY BOB)A view of the smoke of the Beit Meir fire from Modiin (credit: YONAH JEREMY BOB)

Lahav Harkov contributed to this report.

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