Cities Cancel Holiday Bonfires as Heat Wave Hits Israel

Authorities urge caution on Lag Ba'omer, customarily celebrated with communal bonfires all over the country

A bonfire on a Tel Aviv beach, May 1, 2018.
Tomer Appelbaum

Cities throughout Israel canceled the traditional communal bonfires celebrating the Jewish holiday of Lag Ba'omer because of fears the hot dry weather would cause fires to burn out of control.  

Israel's third-largest city on Wednesday announced that it was canceling the bonfires that are the customary activity on Lag Ba'omer. The ban includes city-sponsored and school-sponsored bonfires, authorities in Haifa said. Be'er Sheva also canceled all the bonfires in the southern city.

Particularly dry, hot weather in Israel could cause fires to flare out of control on Wednesday's holiday, according to fire and rescue services. The heat wave is expected break only on Saturday.

The Israel Fire and Rescue Authority warned against lighting large bonfires as part of the celebrations, saying that smaller fires will be easier to put out if they spread.

The heat wave is forecast to continue throughout the week, peaking on Friday. While the heat could make bonfires more dangerous, strong winds, a main factor in the spreading of fires, are not expected.

Other cities issuing similar warnings included Givatayim, Modi’in, Kiryat Yam and Nesher.

Children holding Lag Ba'omer bonfires in 2017.
\ Gil Cohen-Magen

Jerusalem city hall did not ban bonfires, but did issue instructions for residents along with the fire services. The city asked residents to light fewer fires and only in approved areas far from vegetation and electric lines. “Before lighting the bonfire, clear out vegetation and make sure the surrounding area is clean. Have a large quantity of water or sand near the bonfire to extinguish it,” instructed the city. 

Ashdod, the country's sixth-largest city, also canceled communal bonfires, and the city of Ariel in the West Bank canceled its official bonfire and recommended that residents refrain from lighting their own. 

The Bnei Akiva religious youth movement told the coordinators of its local branches not to hold bonfires at all, unless the local authorities allowed it – but in such cases to follow the instructions carefully.

The Environmental Protection Ministry did not issue any special instructions, but rather repeated general safety precautions ahead of the holiday.

Various other bodies issued their own warnings and instructions. The Israel Electric Corporation warned not to build fired under electric lines or near other electrical facilities.

The Israel Parks and Nature Authority issued its own list of instructions to prevent environmental damage and harm to wild animals. The INPA said it was completely forbidden to burn toilet paper or similar items: “Many people think by doing so they will leave the area clean, but quite a number of fires broke out because of such actions. In addition, it is permitted to light fires only in certain campgrounds, which are marked and approved for it.” In addition, make sure no hot coals are left behind when you leave.    

The municipalities of Tel Aviv and Jerusalem also issued safety precautions and said they intend to ensure that bonfires be lit only in officially sanctioned locations. However, Tel Aviv Deputy Mayor Asaf Zamir wrote on Facebook: "The forecast for tomorrow is 33 degrees (91 degrees Fahrenheit) with winds. In these conditions, I see fit to recommend refraining from holding bonfires and to instead hold alternative activities related to the holiday."