The combination of an unseasonal heatwave with a Jewish holiday celebrated by lighting bonfires proved a dangerous mix, Israel’s firefighters discovered over the last two days.
Firefighters had to battle 600 fires of various sizes Saturday and Sunday, while Magen David Adom medics had their hands full treating burn victims as well as dehydrated revelers at the main Lag B’Omer celebrations on Mt. Meron.
The arrival of 400,000 people to the gathering in Northern Israel, marking the passing away of Kabbalist sage Rabbi Shimon Bar-Yochai who is buried at the site, was beyond all expectation. The overcrowding and fervent celebrations at the site resulted in 500 people requiring medical attention, mostly due to burns, heat stroke, and dehydration.
Police were also caught unprepared. The transportation system leading to the site collapsed, creating massive traffic jams and stranding thousands in their vehicles.
“Our bus didn’t budge for three hours. At one point, people started disembarking and making their way up the mountain on foot in the sweltering heat,” one of the participants told Maariv.
“Over the last 24 hours our workload increased tenfold compared to a usual day,” Israel Fire Services Commissioner Shahar Ayalon said. “We handled upwards of 600 fires across the country. The combination of extreme heat, easterly winds, problematic humidity levels, and smoking bonfires means we are experiencing one of the busiest days ever. We have crews that haven’t slept in 30 hours.”
Eleven people were injured Sunday in a fire at Maasiyahu Prison in Ramle, south of Tel Aviv. Five guards and six inmates were treated on-site for smoke inhalation after it broke out in the prison’s wood factory.
Students were removed from the Hadasim high school in the central region due to a blaze that was raging nearby.
Fires erupted all across Israel on Saturday too.
A large wildfire swept through the woods near the central town of Beit Shemesh on Saturday night, scorching 500 acres of brush and forcing the evacuation of nearby residents.
Firefighting crews battled the blaze for three hours overnight in an attempt to control the flames. No injuries were reported, nor was the cause of the fire determined.
Firefighters also struggled to contain a fire near the industrial district of the central town of Rosh Ha’ayin. Part of the roof of the warehouse in which the fire broke out collapsed, according to Ynet.
Earlier, five firefighting crews battled a blaze that erupted in the United Nations compound in Jerusalem Saturday evening. Israel Fire Services said four vehicles caught fire in the Armon Hanatziv neighborhood of the capital. Two people were lightly injured in a forest fire in a park outside of Modiin, and residents of Almagor in the Golan Heights were briefly ordered to evacuate their homes because of approaching flames. Fires were also reported in Haifa, Yavniel, Shoham, and Rison Lezion.
Record-breaking air pollution levels were monitored across the country with many places recording four to seven times the average particle density. In the ultra-Orthodox city of Bnei Brak, air pollution was 17 times its normal level.