Wildfires Burn Across North as Israel Prepares for Lag Ba'omer Holiday

Police ask public to show caution and vigilance when lighting bonfires to celebrate the holiday; between 250,000 and 400,000 visitors expected Sunday at the tomb of Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai.

Eli Ashkenazi
Eli Ashkenazi
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Eli Ashkenazi
Eli Ashkenazi

Several fires broke out in northern Israel on Saturday amid oppressive heat, and more were expected on the eve of the Jewish holiday of Lag Ba'omer. Because of the heat wave and strong winds in the country's north, Israel's Fire and Rescue Services decide to increase manpower at firehouses across the north and asked the public to show caution and vigilance when lighting bonfires to celebrate the holiday.

Despite the warnings, two blazes raged in the north on Saturday evening. One of the fires spread on fallow land lying between the communities of Almagor and Karkom north of Lake Kinneret. There are fears that the strong winds would carry the fire in the direction of Almagor, with firefighting teams and four firefighting planes from the Upper Galilee and Western Galilee regions sent to tackle the blaze. At one point the inhabitants of six houses at the outskirts of the community were evacuated, but the fires were eventually brought under control before reaching residences.

A fire also broke out on a mountainside near the community of Yavne'el on Saturday afternoon. Six firefighting crews and four firefighting planes from Tiberias were called to the location. Also on Saturday, two hikers in the north were rescued by volunteers in two separate incidents after becoming seriously dehydrated due to the extreme heat.

Meanwhile, preparations were underway for Israel's largest annual Lag Ba'omer gathering at the grave of famous Jewish sage Rabbi Shimon Bar Yohai. Police expect between 250,000 and 400,000 visitors to arrive at Mount Meron over the two-day period of celebrations for the holiday. Thousands of police are expected to provide security for the bonfire gathering after the end of the Sabbath and the public has been told that no vehicles would be allowed onto near the tomb site on the mountain during the holiday. Instead, three large parking areas with shuttle service were set up nearby to allow visitors to park and then head to the grave site. An information center will be set up for visitors to call at 1700-500-679.

Saturday's bonfire lightings began later than in previous years to prevent the desecration of the Sabbath and to allow all revelers to reach bonfire sites safely and in time. As part of their annual tradition, the main bonfire atop the tomb of Bar Yochai was lit by the members of the Hasidic Boyan sect.

A fire near Almagor, April 27, 2013.Credit: Gil Eliyahu

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