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Airborne asbestos feared after Jerusalem market fire

Heat wave blamed for sparking rash of blazes across Israel; firefighters battle flames in Zichron Yaakov, Beit Shemesh

Firefighters at the scene of a large fire that broke at a warehouse in Jerusalem's Givat Shaul neighborhood on May 16, 2016. (Shlomi Cohen/Flash90)
Firefighters at the scene of a large fire that broke at a warehouse in Jerusalem's Givat Shaul neighborhood on May 16, 2016. (Shlomi Cohen/Flash90)

Dozens of firefighters on Sunday struggled to contain a fire that broke out in Jerusalem’s Givat Shaul neighborhood, as the heat wave afflicting Israel entered its second day.

The blaze broke out in a wholesale market and ignited the asbestos roofs of several buildings, raising the risk of hazardous substances spreading from the site. Flames consumed a thicket of woods and threatened a local synagogue and the nearby Israel Electric Corporation building.

The Jerusalem Fire Department said special units were dispatched to the scene to monitor the possible spread of airborne asbestos.

No injuries were reported, but authorities said several buildings and vehicles sustained damage from the fire. Videos of the incident show worshipers at the Keter Synagogue removing the Torah and other holy books from the building as flames approached.

Police temporarily closed Route 1, the main Tel Aviv-Jerusalem highway, after the flames neared it.

Some 15 firefighting teams, two planes and a firefighter crane truck battled the flames for three hours before reporting they were under control.

The fire came as the country was hit by an unusually fierce heat wave, with temperatures in Jerusalem soaring Monday to a sweltering 38°C (100°F).

Firefighters were also working Monday to douse a blaze near the northern city of Zichron Yaakov. Route 2 between the Pardes and Zichron junctions was closed to traffic Monday afternoon after heavy smoke severely impaired visibility on the highway.

Earlier in the day, a brush fire near the city of Beit Shemesh, about a 30-minute drive west of Jerusalem, burned more than 500 dunams (124 acres) of forest. Firefighters managed to put out the fire, and no injuries were reported.

In light of the severe heat wave, the Israel Fire and Rescue Services Commissioner Shimon Ben-Ner issued an order barring the lighting of fires, including barbecues, from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday. Those caught violating the order could be fined up to NIS 70,000 or face up to six months in prison.

The unseasonable weather in recent days was blamed for sparking a number of brushfires and other smaller blazes that saw several roads closed and prompted the evacuation of entire neighborhoods.

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On Sunday, blazes were reported in several areas around Jerusalem, including between the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Shuafat and Pisgat Ze’ev in the north of the city, as well as near the village of Abu Ghosh, west of Jerusalem.

Residents of Beit Shemesh and Kfar Yona, near Netanya, were temporarily evacuated from their homes as firefighters took on large blazes in those areas. Other fires were reported Sunday at a Petah Tikva kindergarten, in an orchard outside Netanya, and in the Neve Sha’anan neighborhood of Haifa.

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