Israel Fire: Greece, Croatia and Russia Are Sending Aerial Support

Countries answer a request from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for extra firefighter jets to battle blazes consuming homes in the Jerusalem and Haifa regions as an unusually dry November aids the spread of fires.

Firefighters battle the flames in the northern town of Zichron Yaakov on Wednesday, November 23, 2016.
Gil Eliahu

Greece and Croatia granted a request by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Wednesday to assist Israel's battle against wildfires that have destroyed homes near Jerusalem and Haifa in the past two days. 

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Fire In Israel

A blaze in the Jerusalem corridor consumed part of a decades-old hilltop community, and northern Zichron Yaakov was on lockdown after some of its homes were destroyed by blazes on Tuesday.

Heavy winds have helped spread fires fueled by a two-month drought and gusts are expected to pick up further in the next two days.

Greece and Croatia agreed to send firefighter aircraft to Israel on Thursday, after Netanyahu asked their prime ministers by telephone to help out.

Brushfires rage in Israel

Netanyahu also spoke to Russian President Vladimir Putin on Thursday, who confirmed that Russia will immediately send two Be-200 planes to help battle the fires. Netanyahu made the phone calls after seeing on a visit to a firefighter headquarters that Israel needed planes with larger capacities to keep the blazes under control.

Six years ago, Israel brought in a U.S. supertanker to help douse a fire in the Carmel Forest near Haifa that claimed the lives of 40 Israelis, most of them prison guards and police officers.

At least three homes in Nataf, on the city's outskirts, were destroyed by flames on Wednesday. Residents were evacuated safely and no injuries were reported. 

Yuval and Tamar Cohen lost their home of 27 years in Nataf to the flames, but felt thankful they had escaped unscathed with a few belongings in hand.

Built above a deep riverbed from where the fire spread, the Cohens' house was the most heavily damaged by the fire, whose swift and sudden appearance caught the family by surprise, despite warnings.

"We were a little in denial. We saw the smoke from afar and couldn't believe it would reach us, and when we saw it approaching we started watering the garden" in hopes of keeping their property intact instead of fleeing for safety, Yuval Cohen said.

One of them grabbed a guitar as they ran. The couple returned later to fill a few suitcases with what they could salvage of their mostly charred belongings. The roof had completely caved in and onto the floor, the kitchen cabinets were gone and the rest of the furnishings looked like charcoal.

"You don't get the intensity of the fire, how it leaps inside your home in a matter of seconds. You don't want to believe it could ever happen to you," Tamar Cohen said.

When neighbors came to offer their assistance, she told them: "We've all survived, thank God, that's what's important."

Authorities are investigating suspicions that the fire in Nataf may have ignited as a result of a bonfire lit by workers in a nearby pine forest. 

The fire in the northern community of Zichron Yaakov, which broke out on Tuesday, flared anew on Wednesday morning, and residents of some neighborhoods were instructed to stay away from their homes.

Fire also struck the West Bank settlement of Dolev.

A number of towns and cities in northern Israel also suffered from the fires, including Nahariya, Harduf, Yarka and Ma'alot.

A large brushfire also erupted near a school in Nazareth. Four firefighting teams evacuated the building and stopped the flames from spreading. No injuries were reported.

Three firefighting teams were working to extinguish a separate, large brushfire in the southern Hebron Hills area. The nearby Route 35 highway was closed to traffic.