Israel’s allies send firefighting aircraft to the Jewish State as emergency service teams are battling upward of 220 blazes nationwide in the past two days, with thousands being evacuated.
• Authorities suspect arson in half of the cases.
By Efrat Forsher, Nitzi Yakov, Daniel Siryoti, Shlomi Diaz, Shlomo Cesana, Yori Yalon, and Israel Hayom Staff
Israel’s emergency services continued to battle massive fires Thursday, as roaring flames, fueled by extremely dry weather, ravaged dozens of communities nationwide.
Numerous firefighting teams, assisted by military firefighters and aircraft have been battling the flames since Tuesday.
Israel Fire and Rescue Services said Thursday that 220 fires were recorded nationwide over the past two days, 189 of which were brush fires. The department announced a state of emergency on Wednesday, resulting in a nationwide call-up of all personnel and volunteers.
Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan said he believed the state of emergency will remain in force until at least the middle of next week.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu decided Wednesday to exercise the civilian emergency aid treaties Israel maintains with a number of allies, asking Greece, Croatia, Cyprus, Italy and Russia for assistance.
Netanyahu spoke with Russian President Vladimir Putin, Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras and Croatian Premier Andrej Plenkovic, and asked for their assistance in the form of firefighting aircraft.
Israel’s allies agreed immediately: Ten firefighting aircraft, capable of carrying 10 tons of fire retardant each, began arriving in Israel on Thursday morning from Greece, Croatia, Cyprus, Italy and Turkey, while Russia dispatched a Beriev Be-200 Altair aircraft, designed to carry 12 tons of fire retardant, to Israel’s aid.
Netanyahu thanked the countries coming to Israel’s aid, tweeting, “Thank you to Russia, Greece and Croatia, which are sending firefighting planes to Israel to help our firefighting efforts.”
The early hours of Thursday morning saw firefighters get under control the massive blaze ravaging parts of the northern town of Zikhron Yaakov, where 3,000 people were evacuated from their homes.
Firefighting teams, however, had no reprieve, as massive fires threatened the outskirts of Jerusalem and Haifa.
Highway 443, which links Jerusalem and Lod, was temporarily closed on Thursday as flames reached the city of Modiin.
Dozens of firefighting teams continued to battle the fire threatening Nataf, north of the capital. Strong winds were pushing the fire, which broke out on Wednesday morning, west, toward the neighboring community of Neve Ilan.
Over 40 firefighting teams were battling the flames on the capital’s outskirts. Clearly visible from Highway 1, the main artery linking Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, the wind-whipped blaze threatened strategic power and water facilities in the area.
A large gas station at Shaar Hagai, a major junction on the Jerusalem-Tel Aviv highway, was shut down as it is in the fire’s projected route. Special precautions were being taken to protect the station’s gasoline depository, as well as a nearby chlorine depository used by Israel’s national water company, Mekorot.
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WATCH: Family flees fiery inferno in Jerusalem area
Four major Haifa neighborhoods were evacuated after a roaring forest fire edged dangerously close. Twenty-six people suffered mild smoke inhalation. The University of Haifa campus was also evacuated as a precaution.
A brush fire threatened three buildings near the Orot Rabin power station in Hadera Thursday. The fire, suspected as arson, was extinguished before it reached the compound.
Sixty families were temporarily evacuated from Talmon, in Samaria, due to a brush fire, while 13 families were evacuated from nearby Dolev.
A fire department official said evacuees would most likely be able to return to their home by Thursday evening.
Firefighters were able to extinguish the blaze threatening the Lower Galilee community of Gilon, where 250 families were evacuated, but the families would not be able to return home before Friday, he said.
Netanyahu, Erdan and Police Commissioner Roni Alsheikh visited the fire departments’ command center in northern Israel Wednesday evening, and were briefed on the investigation into the fires.
“Almost 50% of the fires are apparently arson,” Erdan told Army Radio on Thursday. He said the police was bolstering deployment in open areas nationwide to generate deterrence and help fire detection efforts.
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