The initial investigation into a large fire that broke out near Beit Shemesh on Friday shows that the blaze was caused by negligence on the part of a local farmer. A special investigative team was convened by the Israel Fire and Rescue Authority. Firefighters have contained the blaze, but continue working to put it out completely and prevent it from flaring up again. So far more than 1,500 dunam (370 acres) of natural forest have been destroyed.
Authorities fear that overnight, the wind direction in the area will change, causing the fire to flare up. Route 44 was to remain closed until this morning, and tourists were instructed to avoid the area. As of late last night, authorities said local residents were not in danger.
Thirteen firefighting planes and more than 70 ground crews were dispatched to the area, among them dozens of firefighters currently on vacation, According to the fire department, the blaze required the greatest firefighter mobilization since the 2010 Carmel Forest disaster.
Shmulik Friedman, the acting head of the Fire and Rescue Authority’s operations department, said on Friday evening that “we’re dealing with the large fire, and it has engulfed an especially large area. Firefighters are deploying in great numbers and responding well, while enduring grave danger to themselves. Despite the smoke and heavy heat, firefighters have managed to stop the fire and prevent it from reaching the nearby communities of Tarom, Taoz and Eshataol as well as the Har Tuv industrial zone.
According to Eli Peretz, the head of the Fire and Rescue Authority’s Jersualem district, who is commanding the firefighters in the field, the fire broke out near a cemetery in Taoz, and quickly spread east. Strong winds caused the blaze to spread quickly and change directions numerous time.
Fire and Rescue Commissioner Shahar Ayalon also arrived on the scene.
A firefighting crew approaching the blaze, Friday July 24, 2015. (Photo by Beit Shemesh Firefighting Services)
The blaze as seen from Route 44 towards Shimson Junction, Friday July 24, 2015. (Photo by Beit Shemesh Firefighting Services)