Hundreds Evacuated After Fires Break Out Across Israel Amid Scorching Heatwave

Two moderately injured from smoke inhalation ■ Police block several roads near areas where firefighters are working to control flames

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Fires that broke out in Ramat Pinkas, July 17, 2019.
Fires that broke out in Ramat Pinkas, July 17, 2019. Credit: Police Spokesperson

Several wildfires broke out Wednesday across Israel as temperatures reached a scorching 49.9 degrees Celsius (121 Fahrenheit) amidst an intense heatwave, prompting the evacuation of hundreds of houses across the country.

Firefighters were put on red alert, and volunteer firefighters were called up throughout the country as blazes raged. Five people from throughout the country, three men aged 64, 60 and 35 and two women aged 70 and 41, were lightly injured from smoke inhalation.

Fires have concentrated in three areas: Or Yehuda, Wadi Ara and Beit Shemesh. Firefighting Commissioner Teddy Simchi declared a state of high alert.

In the city of Or Yehuda, south of Tel Aviv, five homes caught on fire and residents were evacuated from their homes, police say, and some 200 houses in the towns around Wadi Ara were evacuated due to nearby fires.

A fire near the northern settlement of Barta'a, July 17, 2019.

Residents were also evacuated from the West Bank settlement of Shavei Shomron. An additional fire broke out in Neot Kedumim near Mod'in, where 15 residents were evacuated, and the Mitkan Adam army base was evacuated as well. Due to winds and inclement weather, firefighters are managing the situation on foot, without the help of firefighting planes.

Police say the fire at Ramat Pinkas is spreading throughout the neighborhood. "Immediately after the incident began, the residents were evacuated due to heavy smoke," the police added.

According to firefighters, a fire broke out in an open area east of Highway 4 after brush ignited. "Due to the intense winds, the fire is spreading rapidly, so most firefighting forces are concentrated on the western houses of Ramat Pinkas and the southern area of Or Yehuda," authorities say.

A fire that was extinguished at Wadi Ara near Haifa, July 17, 2019. Credit: Firefighting and rescue workers

    In Haifa, Technion-the Israel Institute of Technology, was evacuated as a precaution. The police emphasized that there was no present danger to the campus.

    Fires also broke out in the settlement of Tomer in the Jordan Valley, the Ramot Menashe forest and Nahariya.

    Two additional fires broke out at the entrance of the central moshav of Nehalim near several highways. Firefighters are working to control the fires.

    The police have blocked several roads as a result of the fires.

    Wednesday's temperatures are the highest measured since the establishment of the State of Israel, and second only to the peak temperature of 54 degrees Celsius (129 Fahrenheit) in 1942, measured in the Jordan Valley.

    The Israel Meteorological Service noted that extreme temperatures have been measured in the past, but the fact that the temperature records have been continuously broken over the past years reflects the fact that global climate change affects not only the average temperature, but extreme weather as well.

    "Even though it is difficult to attribute an isolated incident to climate change, according to our best estimates, global warming will continue, and we expect the number of extreme heat waves to rise, and a higher probability of breaking other temperature reocrds," an announcement from the meteorological service read.

    Israel's Health Ministry warned the elderly and chronically ill against heat exposure and unnecessary physical exertion amid the heatwave. The Firefighting and Rescue Commission called on the public to avoid trying to put out fires themselves due to risks of causing the flames to spread further. They also said that firefighting units have been maximized in anticipation of the fires.

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