Small Fires Break Out Across Galilee; Police Suspect Arson

Police Commissioner David Cohen had warned local police chiefs to prepare for a spate of fires that were purposely started.

Close to a dozen fires broke out across the Galilee in northern Israel on Friday, even as fire fighters from Israel and abroad fought to contain a massive wildfire which has swept across a huge swathe of the nearby Carmel region. Police suspect that the new blazes were set deliberately.

Police Commissioner David Cohen earlier Friday warned local police chiefs to prepare for a spate of fires that had been purposely started. Police fear that some would take advantage of the current crisis to start more fires in the region.

Carmel fire - AP - 3.12.2010

The heightened state of emergency led earlier to the arrests of two residents of the Druze village of Daliat el-Carmel, itself threatened by the brushfire, on suspicion of deliberately starting the massive blaze. The two were later released without charge once it was established that they had no connection to the fire. Investigators have said that they believe the massive fire was caused by negligence, rather than arson.

The largest of the fires which broke out Friday began at around noon in the Tsur Shalom industrial area in Kiryat Bialik, on the outskirts of Haifa. The smoke caused by the fire led police to temporarily close off a section of Route 4, which runs the length of the country, between Acre and central Israel. Investigators searching the area once the fire had been doused discovered two bicycles and a bag containing a wig, which led police to suspect that the fire was the result of arson.

Less than two hours later, a brushfire broke out near Maalot Tarshiha, and at the same time a brush fire was reported in Kiryat Tivon. At around 2:30 P.M., small fires broke out east of Shfaram. Another fire also broke out in the Neve Yosef neighborhood of Haifa.

A little before 5 P.M., another brushfire started near the Bat Salame moshav, on the side of the Mount Carmel. The police closed a section of Route 70 to traffic due to heavy smoke, opening it again two hours later.

The new fires also continued throughout the evening. At 6 P.M., two brushfires broke out in the Nazareth area; arson was suspected in both cases. At around the same time, another fire started close to the community of Adi, next to Shfaram. The fire approached the gates of the community, but fire fighters soon brought the blaze under control.

At around 8 P.M. on Friday night, another fire was reported close to the Tel-Al community in the Western Galilee. Again, police closed part of Route 70. Half an hour later, another wildfire broke out in the industrial area of the town of Nesher, close to Haifa.