JERUSALEM — More than one thousand fires which led to the evacuation of thousands of people from their homes have been extinguished, Israel’s National Fire and Rescue Services announced.
The fires, aided by dry and hot weather conditions, burned May 23 through 25.
Homes were evacuated in Beit Hagai, in the southern Hebron Hills in the West Bank and in at least five other communities.
Among the causes of the fires were faults in electrical cables, embers from Lag b’Omer bonfires, arson and incendiary balloons launched from Gaza at southern Israel, according to the agency. In the extreme heat wave that has blanketed Israel for several days, temperatures hit the 100s on May 23.
The fires burned nearly 2,000 acres of forests, with the worst damage in the Ben Shemen Forest in central Israel.
At least 50 houses burned down from the fires in central Israel, including 40 homes in Mevo Modi’im, founded by the late Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach, amounting to most of the village, as well as 10 homes in Kibbutz Harel. Mevo Modi’in residents had been evacuated.
Carlebach, best known as a composer of Jewish music and as spiritual leader to religious Jews in the counterculture, lived there and in Canada before his death in 1994. He founded the community in 1975.
Israel’s Fire and Rescue Service initially blamed the Mevo Modi’in blaze on faulty electric wires, but has since discovered that it had several points of origin, suggesting arson, the Times of Israel reported.
In Beitar Ilit, an apartment building caught fire and several people including a mother and her children had to be rescued by firefighters. Three of them were taken to the hospital with fire-related injuries.
More than 1,000 firefighters battled the blazes throughout the country, as did Israel’s 12 firefighting planes and firefighters from five other countries identified as Egypt, Croatia, Cyprus, Greece, and Italy. Four Palestinian firefighting companies also assisted.
“I would like to take this opportunity to thank the leaders of the many countries that sent us aerial assistance. It was important and also attests to cooperation with Israel and to Israel’s standing. However, I have instructed that an additional increase be prepared for our aerial firefighting squadron so that it will be able to operate also at night, if possible. This is difficult but we want to achieve this capability as well,” Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Sunday, May 26, at the start of the weekly Cabinet meeting.
Netanyahu said the government would help wherever possible to rebuild the areas hit by fire.
Meanwhile, several fires are burning in communities in southern Israel located near the Gaza border. Fire officials said that some of those blazes were sparked by balloons carrying explosives sent from Gaza. The fires have destroyed dozens of acres of woodlands and burned up a wheat field outside of Kibbutz Nahal Oz.
On May 22, incendiary balloons started at least six fires.