Israel Seeks International Assistance as Massive Jerusalem Fire Spreads for Second Day

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The Jerusalem fire rages on, at Mount Eitan, west of Jerusalem, Monday.
The Jerusalem fire rages on, at Mount Eitan, west of Jerusalem, Monday. Credit: Ariel Kedem / Israel Nature and Parks Authority

As the fires that broke out near Jerusalem Sunday continue to rage and spread outward, evacuations of other communities in the Jerusalem hills were underway on Monday, with the Fire and Rescue Service announcing a general mobilization of firefighting and rescue services personnel from around the country as authorities work to contain the blaze.

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett ordered officials to examine options for international assistance over the fires, just days after Israel sent planes and crews to Greece to help battle fires raging there.

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Foreign Minister Yair Lapid spoke with his Greek counterpart, Nikos Dendias, who told the Israeli minister Athens is willing to assist "as much as it can."

Foreign Ministry officials are also in talks with representatives from Cyprus, Italy, France and other countries in the region, a statement said.

Area of the Jersualem hills fire

The fires have consumed nearly 5,000 acres of natural forest, Israeli officials said Monday. For the sake of comparison, as of now, the fires have destroyed roughly 80 percent as much acreage as the worst forest fire in Israel's history – the 2010 fire that blazed through Carmel Park near Haifa, destroying some 6,200 acres of natural habitat. That blaze raged for four days and killed 44 people. 

A firefighting plane releases retardant over fires raging in Jerusalem hills, Sunday. Credit: Ronen Zvulun / Reuters

Police officers began evacuating residents of Shoeva, Kibbutz Tzuba and Kiryat Yearim on Monday afternoon. 

As of Monday afternoon, dozens of firefighting ground crews and ten firefighting planes are at work to contain the fire, according to a rescue services statement.  

Fire chief Dedy Simhi visited the area on Monday morning, working with the commander of Jerusalem's fire and rescue services, Nissim Twito, to formulate an operational plan to contain the fires.

Simhi told reporters the fire must have started "as a result of human action," but said it is still unclear what that might have been or who might have caused it.

Earlier Monday morning, Twito, said the fire was caused by people, but didn't specify whether it was deliberate arson or negligence. He also said that the fire started near the Burma Road, a makeshift pathway to Jerusalem built during the 1947-49 War of Independence. 

A fire in the Jerusalem area, this week. Credit: Ohad Zwigenberg

Twito added that it was one of the biggest fires since 2016, and that two houses, as well as a winery and two cick coops, had burned down since the fire started. 

Thousands of residents from the communities of Giv'at Ye'arim, Ramat Raziel, Ksalon and Beit Meir were evacuated from their homes on Sunday. Residents of Giv'at Ye'arim were granted permission on Monday morning to return home, said the police in a statement. 

The fire near the Eitanim mental health facility had resumed as of Monday afternoon. Earlier, some 150 workers and patients at the Eitanim mental health facility had been evacuated, and had been permitted to return on Monday morning. Emergency services treated three people for smoke inhalation and located two missing persons who had gone missing from the facility when the fire broke out.

The flames spread quickly on Sunday due to strong winds, leading to police and the military taking part in the efforts as well. 

The Health and Environmental Protection Ministries have issued high air pollution warnings for residents of Mevasseret Zion, Shoresh, Shoeva, Neve Ilan and other communities in the area, and recommend that those with pre-existing heart and lung conditions, as well as older citizens, pregnant women and children avoid going outside.  

Prime Minister Bennett abruptly ended a national security cabinet meeting to hold consultations on the spreading conflagration on Sunday as the fire was spreading, together with Public Security Minister Omer Bar-Lev. Bar-Lev said Sunday that it is critical that fire trails, that is, buffer zones without trees, be maintained as necessary to prevent the rapid spread of wildfires in the future. 

Simhi praised his firefighters saying they were able to save several towns from "burning to the ground." 

Less than two weeks ago, another fire broke out near Jerusalem in Shoresh in what the fire chief said appeared to have been caused by a person. 

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