Dozens of fire engine crews from all over northern Israel battled more than 40 separate fires across the Western Galilee Friday and Saturday. While no serious injuries were reported from any of the fires, dozens of people were evacuated from their homes, and hundreds of acres of both natural and manmade forests were destroyed.
Yesterday evening firefighters were called in to battle a fire in a Nahariya nursing home that was apparently caused by negligence.
Police and firefighting investigators have said they suspect arson in some of the forest fires, citing the multiple ignition sources typical of deliberately set fires, while others were caused by negligence.
On Friday afternoon a number of firefighting teams were called in to fight a large blaze between Moshav Ahihud and Kibbutz Yasur, in the Western Galilee, that began in an open field east of the kibbutz and spread to the west. Police closed Route 70 between the Ahihud and Yavor junctions. They evacuated residents from Yasur, focusing on a retirement home that was in the path of the fire. Dozens of Magen David Adom ambulances were also dispatched to the site. Firefighters on the ground, with support from firefighting planes, contained the blaze within a few hours. Four people suffered mild smoke inhalation injuries.
Firefighters yesterday responded to 89 separate brush fires. The largest of these were two separate fires in the Gilon and Ahihud forests, close to Tal El. There were smaller fires in the area of Yarka and Ein al-Assad.
The hot, dry weather combined with strong winds on Friday helped the flames to spread and impeded firefighting efforts.
Firefighters in the Western Galilee will remain on high alert today in order to battle any new or reignited fires. Fire officials are asking the public as well as anyone working in olive groves - the harvest season is about to begin - to take all fire safety precautions. In particular they warned against burning brush near trees and open fields.
Amir Levy, Commander of the Israeli Fire Fighting Services in the Western Galilee, told Haaretz yesterday that the recent fires are being investigated as possible arson incidents. He cited the unusually large number of fires as well as the presence of multiple sources of ignition as possible indications of arson. Some of the fires, Levy said, were caused by careless farmers.
A massive fire in the Carmel Forest last December claimed 42 lives, including 37 Israel Prison Service officer cadets and three senior police officers, among them the chief of Haifa's police. The fire took several days to extinguish and set off a round of soul-searching, reform initiatives and budget discussions. Firefighter aircraft from neighboring countries were called in to battle the blaze.
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