Even the Nation's Firefighters Agree: Summer Has Never Been This Hot

As most Israelis stay indoors near air conditioners in this summer's scorching heat, some people are forced to wear long-sleeve shirts, Kevlar vests and go out to battle fires.

As most Israelis stay indoors near air conditioners in this summer's scorching heat, some people are forced to wear long-sleeve shirts, Kevlar vests and go out to battle fires.

"I've been a firefighter for 30 years and this summer has been the worst," said firefighter Gershon Cohen. "All the large fires are caused by the heat, which has been accompanied by winds this year. I don't remember a summer like this."

Fire at Moshav Ora
Haggai Ofen

His young underlings at the Romema fire station in Jerusalem say he has been there so long he was appointed by King David.

Despite the oppressive heat and many fires, yesterday began as a quiet day. The firefighters sat in the air-conditioned station, watched television and enjoyed the coolness. But it didn't last. At about 3 P.M. they received a report of a big fire in the industrial area of Moshav Ora outside the capital.

In the summer, even off-duty firefighters are on call.

"I was in my bathing suit on the way to the swimming pool with my wife and kids when I was suddenly called back to work," said a firefighter named Doron. "They weren't happy, but it's not the first time this summer. It's our work and we love it. In the winter we're much more available for our families."

Teams from Jerusalem and Beit Shemesh battled for 18 hours near Moshav Ora before the flames could spread to the nearby forest and the moshav itself.

The road to the moshav was closed off and the residents were asked to stay indoors so they wouldn't breathe in the toxic fumes emitted by the factory's burning asbestos roof. One firefighter was lightly injured after inhaling smoke.

The Romema detail was not called to put out this fire, so the firefighters there could lean back and stay in the station. "They must be suffering out there in the heat now," said Omri Alhini about his colleagues. "I used to love the summer before I got this job but now I don't."

According to Arik Nisimov, "In the summer we're on high alert. Every little fire can turn into a huge one. Even when you're home you know you can be called at any moment. We have to have babysitters ready, aunts, grandparents."

In addition to the massive brushfires, summer missions include putting out flames erupting from air conditioners that are on for too long, and vehicles that heat up and burst into flames. Also, children have to be extracted from parked cars.

Heat wave to continue

The bad news is that the heat wave will continue today. The good news is that the sharav conditions have reached their peak, says Nahum Malik of the Meteotech weather service. From tomorrow to Tuesday temperatures are expected to drop slightly and return to average for the summer - 30 degrees Celsius in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, 40 in Eilat, 35-40 in Be'er Sheva and 30 in Safed.

Yesterday was the hottest day this week. The same temperatures are expected today - 39 in Jerusalem (9 degrees above average ), 38 in Safed, 43 near Lake Kinneret and 46 in Eilat. "It was 34 degrees in the Dan Region, but with the humidity it felt like 42," said Malik.

An intense sharav is expected today in the hills and inland, with warm, humid air along the coast. Temperatures will begin to fall tomorrow, but only by 2 to 3 degrees. The heat wave will continue and the coastal plain will continue to be hot and humid.

On Sunday temperatures will drop another 1 to 2 degrees, but it will still be hot above average for the season with heavy heat stress. "Toward the middle of the week there could be a gradual, slight drop in temperatures," Malik said. "On Tuesday temperatures may be average again for August."