At fire-stricken Halamish, a scene of devastation
15 homes destroyed, dozens more damaged in West Bank settlement; 2 Palestinians questioned on suspicion of arson, later released; Ramallah firefighters help battle the blaze
The West Bank settlement of Halamish was a scene of devastation Saturday morning, as teams of firefighters worked to quell a fire that hit dozens of homes and led to the evacuation of the entire population.
Two Palestinians were arrested Saturday morning on suspicion of starting the fire that broke out late Friday. The two were taken in for questioning and later released, the Walla website reported.
At least 15 homes were completely burned and another 25 suffered fire damage. Three Palestinian firefighters from Ramallah joined their Israeli counterparts to help battle the blaze.
Multiple teams of firefighters and firefighting planes had rushed to the settlement late Friday night, as some 350 families were evacuated when power lines caught alight. Two residents and two firefighters were lightly injured.
The fire was finally brought under control, but not fully extinguished, on Saturday morning. Six firefighting planes were still in the area to assist firefighters on the ground.
Assaf Abras, a spokesman for the local fire service, told the Ynet website as dawn broke Saturday that many homes were completely gutted.
“It was hard to see — houses collapsed and burning in a domino effect,” he said. “My heart goes out to the residents.”
He continued: “There was an inferno here. I have been a firefighter for 23 years, I was at the Carmel disaster [in 2010], but I have never seen a week like this. There was genuine fear here.”
Ehud Amiton, a resident of Halamish, told Ynet: “We are all filled with appreciation for the firefighters who risked their lives among flames in a tight race to salvage homes and property. This is just the initial stage, and the fire is not yet over. Firefighters are still working after a very long night.”
A spokesman for the settlement said: “The community suffered a blow tonight, but we are strong and we can absorb it. Welfare teams from the community and the Binyamin Regional Council have been working since the start to meet the needs of all the residents who were evacuated from their homes.”
The fire was one in a series of suspected arson attacks and wildfires that have cut a swath of destruction across Israel since Tuesday.
No one has been killed in the fires, but hundreds have been injured, dozens of homes burned.
More than a dozen suspects have been arrested on suspicion of sparking at least some of the hundreds of fires. Among the suspects are several whom the Shin Bet domestic security service and police believe are responsible for starting some of the devastating infernos that ripped through Haifa on Thursday.
Investigators have said a large portion of the blazes, as many as half by some accounts, have clearly been caused by accidents and/or the exceptionally dry and windy weather of the recent days, while some indicate arson, and still others are under investigation.