A wildfire in the Ein Hemed forest outside Jerusalem that had been brought under control Sunday evening reignited after midnight. Three firefighting crews worked into the night to extinguish the fire completely.
The fire had initially broken out on Sunday afternoon just west of Jerusalem, in the area between the Ein Hemed forest and the Mevasseret Zion suburb, leading to widespread evacuations. According to Walla News, several houses caught fire.
Twenty-six firefighting teams from across the region battled the blaze, which was brought under control in late afternoon, alongside six firefighting planes and one police helicopter.
Four people were injured as a result of the flames. Three civilians were treated for smoke inhalation and one firefighter suffered mild injuries after falling from a ladder.
One resident of Mevasseret Zion described the scene to Army Radio as “a shocking sight – like a war.”
Channel 2 News reported that several residents of Ein Hemed complained that the firefighters arrived late, understaffed at first, and unfamiliar with the territory. The fire department denied the allegations, saying its records show it got there on time.
Police and firefighters are investigating what started the fire, but the fact that there was only a single starting point has led them to believe that it was not the result of deliberate arson.
In June, former State Comptroller Micha Lindenstrauss released a 500-page report about the Carmel fire of December 2010. Lindenstrauss found across-the-board failures in Israel’s handling of the blaze, which raged for 77 hours and claimed 44 lives. Fault was found with the police, the Israel Prison Service and the Israeli Fire and Rescue Service. The harshest criticism was reserved for Interior Minister Eli Yishai and Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz. The two officials, according to the report, bickered over funding for years, creating a situation in which Israel possessed only 20 tons of fire suppressant material — some 90 percent less than the emergency minimum — on the eve of the fire.
Since the report was released, families of the victims of that fire have been applying pressure on the government to remove Yishai and Steinitz from their ministerial posts. Additionally, many both in and out of the government have been pushing to improve Israel’s firefighting mechanisms.
On Sunday afternoon, Internal Security Minister Yitzhak Aharonovitch was quoted by Ynet as saying that in a meeting with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Steinitz, he refused to take responsibility for the fire fighting apparatus in Israel unless additional funds are budgeting for that purpose. “I hope that the people in the Finance Ministry will understand, so that tomorrow we can present the reforms to the Knesset.”
Last week, a fire broke out near Har Gilo in southern Jerusalem. Israeli and Palestinian firefighters worked together to control that blaze, in which nobody was injured but 40 dunams (10 acres) of olive tree plantations were destroyed.
Mitch Ginsburg contributed to this report.
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