Yad Vashem Evacuated as Large Wildfire Spreads Through Jerusalem Forest

Over 200 firefighters scramble to fight forest blaze devastating wooded area near Israeli capitol.

By late Sunday afternoon firefighters brought under control a large wildfire that erupted a few hours earlier in the Jerusalem Forest, in the west of the city. Five people were treated for smoke inhalation, and the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial was evacuated due to the heavy smoke in the area. Arson is suspected in the blaze, because it apparently originated in three different places. About 150 acres ‏(some 37 acres‏) of wooded area was destroyed in the fire.

The fire began at around 3:30 P.M. Large numbers of firefighters were dispatched to the scene. The first responders, from the Jerusalem area, were later joined by units from other parts of the country for a total of around 200 firefighters in 37 teams. Four aircraft from the Elad firefighting squadron, established after the Carmel forest fire in December, dusted the area with flame retardants, making dozens of passes. Water tankers from the Home Front Command were brought in to spray water from the ground.

Fire fighters - AP - 18072011

“Our main goal was protecting the neighborhoods of Har Nof and and Yefe Nof, as well as Yad Vashem and the Pi Glilot oil refinery,” Fire and Rescue Service Commissioner Shahar Ayalon said. Residents of the affected areas were asked to keep their windows closed because of the thick smoke in the air.

In addition to concern that the fire could reach Pi Glilot or Yad Vashem, authorities were worried about Tzippori Center, a recreation center in the heart of the Jerusalem Forest. Hundreds of children were evacuated from the facility when the flames began to approach it.

One of the hotspots of the fire was Havat Beit Haya’ar, a therapeutic ranch with horses and goats. The ranch was burned to the ground but employees safely evacuated the animals.
“The aircraft were scrambled quickly but it’s still not the way it should have been. On days like this when the fire danger is high there should be “silent patrols,” aircraft circling overhead with tanks full of fire retardant,” Chim-Nir aviation company CEO David Golan told Haaretz yesterday. The company’s planes helped to fight yesterday’s fire. “It’s in the contract but it isn’t being done,” Golan said.

He explained that some of the lessons from the Carmel fire were put in place Sunday, such as using an airstrip closer to the site of the fire, and that this proved itself.

Sunday’s fire was yet another blow to the “green lungs” of the capital. The Jerusalem Forest, which covered an area of 4,500 dunams when it was created around 60 years ago, has been reduced by development to less than 1,500 dunams.

“It’s a very important urban nature site,” Amir Balaban of the Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel said yesterday. “It contains gazelles, hyenas and the nests of Eurasian sparrowhawks, which were damaged in the fire.”

on Sunday, Jewish National Fund officials praised the rapid response of JNF employees and firefighters, which they said prevented the fire from spreading further.