Over 70 firefighting crews and ten aerial tankers were struggling to contain a massive fire that broke out near Jerusalem on Wednesday, leading to evacuations, road blockages and train traffic disruptions.
The fire was brought under control at around 8:00 P.M., according to Israel's firefighting chief.
Earlier, residents of Ma'aleh HaHamisha were evacuated, but police said in the afternoon that the kibbutz and its neighboring communities were no longer in danger.
Trains between Jerusalem and Tel Aviv have been halted. Police blocked the Hemed Interchange for traffic. Route 425 toward Nataf was also blocked, as well as the road between Har Adar and Ma'aleh HaHamisha in both directions.
Another fire broke out in an open area of the West Bank settlement of Ariel Monday afternoon, with six firefighter teams deployed in efforts to contain it.
The proceedings of the trial against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, now in their second week, were halted due to the fires. In the case, which the police have dubbed Case 4000, Netanyahu is accused of bribery, fraud and breach of trust for allegedly giving Walla’s parent firm, the Bezeq telecommunications company, regulatory favors worth hundreds of millions of shekels in return for positive coverage on Walla.
All firefighters in the Jerusalem area have joined the efforts to contain the fire. The aerial tankers were joined by two police helicopters. A command center was established near Neve Ilan outside of Jerusalem. Public Security Minister Amir Ohana met with fire chief Dedy Simhi for a situation assessment.
Western winds have driven smoke and ash to Jerusalem itself, and the Health Ministry has recommended that residents with heart and lung conditions, the elderly, children and pregnant women stay indoors and close the windows.
The fire broke out in the area between Abu Gosh and Nataf, not far from the site of a 2016 firestorm that consumed swathes of woodland. Extreme weather conditions may have aided the current fires: low humidity over the past month dried the ground and surrounding brush in the area, according to Boaz Nechamia of the Jerusalem Weather Station. In addition, the rain season this year was significantly dryer and shorter than usual. The last rain in the area was on April 2.
On Friday, 400 hundreds families were evacuated when a large fire broke out near Tzur Hadassah, some 12 kilometers southwest of Jerusalem. Dozens of firefighting crews were deployed. Smoke billowed as far away as the nearby settlements of Beitar Illit, Gush Etzion and Efrat.