Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Friday thanked Egypt for sending two helicopters to back Israel’s firefighting efforts, and said the Palestinian Authority and Russia were among those that offered to help Israel battle a spate of wildfires that forced thousands from their homes a day earlier.
The prime minister also said he was considering expanding Israel’s squadron of firefighting planes, as neighboring countries dispatched backup aircraft to Israel, a day after the blazes devastated towns and forests.
As temperatures soared across the country on Friday afternoon, the wildfires picked up again.
Residents of Neguhot in the South Hebron Hills were evacuated by authorities after a wildfire threatened the settlement. Firefighters were working to extinguish a second fire raging near the West Bank settlement of Peduel.
Earlier in the day, Netanyahu and Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan were briefed on the damage by firefighting and rescue officials.
“I am considering expanding the squadron, for both day and night operations, and other changes, and I certainly plan to implement it in the coming year,” said Netanyahu.
Firefighting units from Cyprus arrived in Israel on Friday morning, and aircraft from the neighboring island country as well as from Greece, Croatia and Italy were expected in Israel later in the day. The international help came after Netanyahu put out an urgent plea for aid in battling the blazes.
The prime minister thanked all of the countries for their help, singling out Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi for praise.
“We received additional offers, including from the PA and others,” added Netanyahu, citing 4-6 countries, including Russia.
The prime minister also applauded the firefighting and rescue services for their “excellent” handling of the crisis, while warning, “the challenge is still ahead of us.”
Authorities were reportedly mulling declaring a national emergency Friday over fire fears. Temperatures are expected to reach a sweltering 110º F (43º C) in some areas between Jerusalem and Tel Aviv. The Dead Sea and Jordan Valley are expected to see even higher temperatures, including an egg-frying 118º F (48º C) at the lowest place on earth.
Adding to mother nature’s woes are fears of airborne arson attacks from Gaza, with Fridays typically seeing an increase in tensions along the restive frontier.
Firefighters worked all day Thursday to gain control over a series of wildfires that broke out in the Ben Shemen forest outside the central city of Modi’in, and in other communities in wooded areas west of Jerusalem. The head of Fire and Rescue Services called up all firefighters in the central region in view of the large number of blazes in the area.
Netanyahu spoke with senior Israeli fire officials late Thursday and told them not to spare any resources in fighting the fires, according to the Walla news site.
Dozens of homes were reportedly burned and some 3,500 people were forced from their homes by the fires.
The village of Mevo Modi’im, founded by musician Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach inside the Ben Shemen forest east of the Tel Aviv area, saw some of the worst damage.
Pictures and videos showed a massive wall of flame sweeping through the community and many of the small town’s homes destroyed by fire. All but 10 of the village’s homes were badly damaged by the fire, according to the Ynet news site.
Much of the surrounding woodland was also ravaged, with a number of other small towns in the area being evacuated, and Route 443, a major highway running from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, closed for much of Thursday and into Friday.
Gilad Semtai, an official with KKL-JNF, which manages forestry for the state, told Army Radio that 40 percent of the forest went up in flames.
Wooded areas outside the city of Beit Shemesh also saw an outbreak of fires, with at least six homes in Kibbutz Harel destroyed.
While Public Security Minister Erdan said arson was not suspected, a series of fires in the Gaza region was blamed on balloon-borne incendiary devices being sent over the border.
Officials fear Friday may see even more attempts to start fires in the Gaza border region.
“The balloon terror may get worse tomorrow depending on the wind direction, after a few of their attempts failed today,” a fire official in the region told Army Radio.
In the Red Sea resort city of Eilat, a fire damaged an electric pole, cutting electricity to much of the city overnight and leaving sweating residents and tourists without air conditioning, according to the Ynet news site. Temperatures in the area on Friday are expected to rocket to 107º F (42º C).
The mercury is expected to fall Saturday to more seasonable temperatures, though still hotter than average.