The dozens of wildfires that continue to rage across Israel have burned more territory than the massive 2010 forest fire on Mount Carmel, the Nature and Parks Authority said over the weekend.
Since Tuesday, some 130,000 dunams (32,124 acres) have been destroyed, approximately 30 percent more than the blaze in the forests around Haifa six years ago.
To date, the majority of the affected land is the Judean Hills, outside Jerusalem, and the Kfir natural reserve, a report in the Ynet news site said. In northern Israel, some 5,000 dunams of forests and bushes have burned.
Since Tuesday, dozens of fires have raged across Israel — most of them small, but some massive, like the one in the port city of Haifa — as dry air, no rain and high winds turned the region into a tinderbox.
Tens of thousands of people have been forced to evacuate while hundreds of homes have been damaged or destroyed. Dozens have been hospitalized for smoke inhalation.
On Thursday, 60,000 Haifa residents were evacuated from their homes, in what the city’s mayor called the largest mass civilian mobilization in the country’s history, as a massive blaze encroached on the northern city.
Haifa city officials said Saturday the fire — by far the largest conflagration in the past five days — damaged between 600-700 homes, leaving over 400 uninhabitable and 37 completely destroyed.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and a number of politicians have been quick to blame many of the fires on the work of terrorist arsonists, though security services — the police, Shin Bet and military — have been more cautious in ascribing nationalistic motives.
On Friday, Netanyahu said there was “no doubt” some of the fires had been deliberate. “There is a price to pay for the crimes committed, there is a price to pay for arson terrorism,” he said without making a specific assessment of what proportion of the fires fell into that category.
But Police Commissioner Roni Alsheich initially gave the impression that the percentage was small. “There are some cases of arson,” Alsheich told reporters, “and lots of cases that are not arson,” he said on Thursday.
Arab Israeli leaders have fired back, arguing that their communities, which make up about 17.5% of the Israeli public, are as much affected by the fires as the Jewish population.
On Saturday, security forces said they arrested 10 Palestinians over the past few days on suspicion of trying to start fires in the West Bank. Some were apprehended with bottles of gasoline and lighters.
Over the past few days, security forces have arrested over 10 suspected Palestinian arsonists attempting to ignite fires…
The Carmel fire, which killed 44 people and burned up large swathes of northern Israel in 2010, was also originally thought to be the result of arson, but was eventually found to have been started inadvertently by a teenager who had been smoking a nargila water pipe in the woods and didn’t extinguish the coals properly.
Over the weekend, firefighting planes from Cyprus, Russia, Turkey, Greece, France, Spain, Canada and the Palestinian Authority joined Israeli efforts to extinguish the blazes that continue to rage across the country.
On Friday night, a US supertanker — considered the largest firefighting aircraft in the world — arrived in Israel to help battle the blazes. It went into action in the Jerusalem hills area of Nataf, where firefighters have been battling blazes since Tuesday.