Residents were allowed to return to their homes yesterday in the Lower Galilee community of Tivon after a fire was brought under control that had raged for four hours in a forest near the town.

Two homes were severly damaged by the blaze, which began at around 3 P.M. and took 30 firefighters and firefighting aircraft to douse. Two other homes were slightly damaged.

Residents of a senior citizens home close to the blaze were evacuated to another such facility elsewhere in the community.

Earlier yesterday firefighters battled another blaze at Kibbutz Sha'ar Ha'amakim near Tivon.

At a meeting to assess the situation last night, the commander of the coastal district police, Maj. Gen. Hagai Dotan, said the wave of fires may be the work of arsonists, although they did not have hard evidence yet of arson.

The head of the Haifa Bay fire department, Maj. Yossi Ben-Yosef, said the numerous fires were probably an indication of arson, especially when a fire breaks out in one place, and then a number of other fires are seen that are not at the first point of origin. "Fires in open areas do not break out just like that. There's always a person involved, either through carelessness or malicious intent," Ben-Yosef said.

Ben-Yosef said that 40 to 50 dunams (10 to 12 acres ) of forest had been burned. Part of main road, Route 75, leading to Tivon from Haifa was blocked during the fire, as residents were evacuated to a local school.

Tali Flebb, a resident of Carmel Street, one of three streets evacuated during the fire, told Haaretz that she called the fire department when she saw the fire start as a small spot of smoke, at around 2:40 P.M. The fire spread quickly from that spot, opposite her home in a grove of trees near a playground.

"I realized it must be a fire and within 10 minutes it had moved to the middle of the wadi toward our house," she said.

Another fire started yesterday afternoon in the industrial zone of Beit Shemesh in the Jerusalem Hills. Two firefighting aircraft were called in, and Route 38 between Ramat Beit Shemesh and Moshav Zecharia was closed to traffic.

Earlier yesterday afternoon firefighters fought another blaze, the second in as many days, in the forest near Moshav Even Sapir not far from Hadassah University Hospital in Ein Karem. Residents living in the first two rows of houses nearest the forest fire were evacuated from their homes.