Firefighters continued Thursday morning to work to put out remaining hotspots from a major forest fire that broke out Wednesday afternoon in southwest Jerusalem.
Hundreds of residents were evacuated from the Ein Kerem and Kiryat Yovel neighborhoods Wednesday afternoon as the large blaze spread through the Jerusalem Forest.
Five homes were destroyed and 10 were damaged by the fire, which is suspected to have been caused by arson or negligence.
Firefighting crews worked through the night putting out isolated pockets of flames, with more crews waiting on standby as well.
Investigators reached the site Thursday morning to search for the source of the blaze, as suspicion grew that it was caused by human activity, possibly intentionally.
“If it broke out as a result of negligence or intentional — our joint team in Jerusalem needs to investigate this,” said Fire and Rescue Commissioner Shahar Ayalon Thursday morning on Israel Radio. “We investigate every incident like this. We will open an investigation along with everyone who was involved yesterday — police and the JNF.”
Ayalon also said that the forest was allowed to grow too densely, and that underbrush would be cleared out as Haifa began doing after the 2010 Carmel blaze.
Some of the problem was caused by fallen trees and broken branches in the wake of last December’s snowstorm.
With the onset of a heatwave over the next several days, the Fire and Rescue Authority canceled vacations for firefighters in anticipation of additional blazes.
Forty firefighting teams and six aircraft fought the flames Wednesday afternoon, according to the Jerusalem branch of the Israel Fire and Rescue Services.
Teams from West Bank settlements and the firefighters’ training school were also called in to help contain the fire.
Public Security Minister Yitzhak Aharonovitch and Ayalon were present at the scene.
Hundreds of residents of nearby apartment buildings were evacuated as the flames reached roads in the area.
Winds shifted direction mid-afternoon, and crews were focusing on prevented the flames from reaching the Yad Vashem Holocaust museum complex, which sits on a nearby hill. Yad Vashem employees were evacuated in the late afternoon.
The section of the light rail system near the forest was also shut down.
Three people were lightly injured by smoke inhalation, according to Channel 2.
Ein Kerem, a picturesque neighborhood in the capital, is home to several significant Christian sites, and the Hadassah Hospital Ein Kerem is located nearby.
Another fire broke out near the village of Nataf near Abu Ghosh Wednesday. Five firefighting teams arrived at the scene.