Fires rage in Zichron Yaakov, Jerusalem-area village Nataf

Fires rage in Zichron Yaakov, Jerusalem-area village Nataf

Thousands evacuated, several homes in south Haifa area destroyed as sharp uptick in winds hampers firefighting efforts

Fire fighters work to put out a forest fire near Zichron Yaakov on November 22, 2016. (Meir Vaaknin /Flash90)
Fire fighters work to put out a forest fire near Zichron Yaakov on November 22, 2016. (Meir Vaaknin /Flash90)

Hampered by driving winds, firefighters were battling a blaze raging in Zichron Yaakov Wednesday morning, a day after it engulfed dozens of homes and prompted the evacuation of thousands of local residents.

Meanwhile, in Nataf, near Jerusalem, firefighters began evacuating residents as another brush fire threatened to engulf houses on the outskirts of the town.

The fire in Zichron had destroyed at least 10 homes, and eight people, including three children, were treated for smoke inhalation at a local hospital.

Some 3,000 residents of the neighborhoods of Har Eden, Givat Zamarin and the surrounding area who were evacuated late Tuesday night were told their homes would remain off-limits for at least several days.

“We expect that in the coming days residents will not be able to return due to the high winds, which present a real risk of loss of life,” said Maj.-Gen. Amos Yaakov, commander of the Coastal District police.

Yaakov said some 30 firefighting teams, 12 military firefighting units and four planes were working to tamp down the fire.

On Wednesday morning, another brush fire broke out near the village of Nataf outside Jerusalem. Firefighting crews from the nearby city of Beit Shemesh were working to battle the blaze, which authorities said was encroaching on a number of area homes. Four firefighting aircraft were dispatched to the scene to help ongoing efforts to put out the fire, and some residents were evacuated.

Earlier Wednesday morning, firefighters battled a massive blaze that neared homes in the West Bank settlement of Dolev, northwest of Jerusalem.

The flames, reportedly reaching 20 meters in height, were extinguished by 21 firefighting units and local volunteers who worked throughout the night. Three caravans were reportedly damaged by the fire.

The conflagrations came after a day that saw several fires whipped up by high winds and dry conditions, starting with a forest fire that led to the evacuation of the Neve Shalom community outside Jerusalem overnight Monday.

Residents of the coexistence community were told they could return to their homes late Tuesday morning after firefighters successfully beat back the fire before it reached the village.

Israel Police Chief Roni Alsheich warned Tuesday evening that weather conditions would increase the likelihood of more forest fires in the coming days.

Speaking from a command center near Zichron Yaakov, Alsheich told journalists that “we have gone through a tough couple of days and we are expecting the next couple to be no less difficult.”

Over the two days, fires were also reported near Hadera, Lachish, the Haifa suburb of Nesher, the Etzion Bloc, and outside the northern town of Kfar Vradim.

Yaakov, the Coastal District chief, said Wednesday morning that police were looking into suspicions the series of fires could have been caused by nationalistically motivated arson attacks.

“When you’re battling six fronts at once, your suspicions run high, but I cannot say for sure,” he said.

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