Blazes quelled, fire service lowers alert, sends help back home
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Blazes quelled, fire service lowers alert, sends help back home

Foreign planes and crews to leave Tuesday after ceremony, following historic rash of wildfires; north and coastal regions to remain on high alert

Troops from the IDF's Home Front Command assist in evacuations in Haifa in light of a massive fire in parts of the city on November 24, 2016. (IDF Spokesperson's Unit)
Troops from the IDF's Home Front Command assist in evacuations in Haifa in light of a massive fire in parts of the city on November 24, 2016. (IDF Spokesperson's Unit)

The fire service on Monday lowered its alert after the rash of fires that have blazed their devastating way through the country finally appeared to have come to a halt.

The move, after two days without any major fires, came as officials hoped to mark the end of a spate of blazes that burned hundreds of homes and ravaged tens of thousands of dunams of forest and scrubland, with reservists and international firefighting teams being sent home.

Fire Services spokesman Yoram Levy said fire stations everywhere but in the north and along the coast would return to normal.

Larger than normal teams will continue to man fire stations in those two areas, which have been hardest hit by the wave of fires.

Around half the Home Front Command reservists called up to help battle the blazes have been released, Levy said.

Palestinian firefighters arrive in the Jerusalem hills village of Nataf to help extinguish an ongoing fire in the area, on November 26, 2016. (AFP PHOTO/AHMAD GHARABLI)
Palestinian firefighters arrive in the Jerusalem hills village of Nataf to help extinguish an ongoing fire in the area, on November 26, 2016. (AFP PHOTO/AHMAD GHARABLI)

The Public Security Ministry had declared it was moving to emergency footing on Wednesday, as a spate of fires began wreaking havoc across the country.

Firefighting planes from countries including Russia, Turkey, Greece, France, Spain, Canada and the US rushed to Israel to help dump tons of water and retardants on some of fires that blazed across the country for nearly a week, fanned by unseasonably dry easterly winds.

Wetter weather was expected to move into the region Tuesday, ending an extreme winter dry spell.

A Cypriot fire-fighting plane, which arrived on Saturday with a team of 69 fire fighters, returned home Monday afternoon, the Walla news site reported.

A firefighting plane from Cyprus works to extinguish a forest fire in the forest near Neve Ilan, outside of Jerusalem, on November 24, 2016. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
A firefighting plane from Cyprus works to extinguish a forest fire in the forest near Neve Ilan, outside of Jerusalem, on November 24, 2016. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Other foreign crews were set to leave the country on Tuesday, following a special ceremony in the presence of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the Hatzerim air force base near Beersheba.

Levy said from November 18 to November 26, firefighters battled 1,773 brush fires around the country and the West Bank.

The last of the major fires were doused Saturday, with only a few small blazes quickly extinguished since then.

“There are no active sites left,” Levy said Sunday.

Most of the fires were caused by the weather and incidents of negligence, though officials have pointed to arson for at least some of them.

Police have arrested at least 35 people on suspicion of arson or incitement to arson.

Fire fighters try to extinguish a blaze at Nataf, outside Jerusalem, on November 25, 2016. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Fire fighters try to extinguish a blaze at Nataf, outside Jerusalem, on November 25, 2016. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Hardest hit has been Haifa, where 527 apartments were destroyed completely, leaving 1,600 people homeless, and from which 75,000 residents had to be evacuated as the flames threatened 11 neighborhoods.

Zichron Yaakov, the Jerusalem Hills and parts of the West Bank were also affected, with dozens of homes damaged or destroyed.

Tens of thousands of dunams of forest and scrubland have also been burned by the rash of wildfires.

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