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Police and firefighters suspect both arson and the carelessness of hikers were behind large fires that plagued the north yesterday, with the heat and strongs winds exacerbating the situation.

In Kafr Brata and Kafr Ara two separate blazes forced police to evacuate 13 close-by homes that were vulnerable to thick smoke. The smoke also led to the closure of Road 65 for hours, police said.

Another fire sprouted in an open area near Road 90 between Tel Hai and Metula. Police again had to close a road for hours because of the thick smoke. The fire advanced toward Kfar Giladi, and firefighters were at the scene late into the day. Firefighting planes were helping the fire brigade on the ground.

Another two blazes struck in the Safed area, one in the Biriya forest north of the city and another in the Ramat Pashcor wood near Safed's industrial area. This fire damaged electric lines and caused power cuts in the vicinity. The Israel Electric Corporation was able to restore power later in the day. Safed police told Haaretz they arrested a man in his 20s near the second fire on suspicion of arson.

The northern district director of the Israel Nature and Parks Protection Authority, Yigal Ben Ari, said large fires occurred around the Hilazon, Amud and Kadesh streams. The largest of those was near the Amud stream, destroying hundreds of acres of woodland. Ben Ari said that "a hiker told us he lit up a piece of toilet paper, and that is how the fire started." The hiker was being investigated by the police, Ben Ari said.

A large fire also broke out near the Alon Tabor industrial area east of Afula, and local fire brigades with two firefighting planes were working to put out the flames.

"This is a difficult time," said Yair Elkayam, operations officer in the Upper Galilee and Golan Height Fire Brigade. "In many cases the fires are obviously caused by arson. You can see it in how they start in several places all at once." Elkayam said fire brigades were on alert and yesterday were working "round the clock."