Authorities suspect arson behind fire that gutted central Israel village

Fire services previously blamed faulty power line for blaze that destroyed 40 of the 50 homes in Mevo Modi’im

Israeli firefighters check a house that was badly damaged by a fire amid an extreme heat wave in the village of Mevo Modi'im, in central Israel on May 24, 2019. (JACK GUEZ / AFP)
Israeli firefighters check a house that was badly damaged by a fire amid an extreme heat wave in the village of Mevo Modi'im, in central Israel on May 24, 2019. (JACK GUEZ / AFP)

The Israel Fire and Rescue Service on Sunday said it suspects arson as the cause of a fire that broke out on Thursday at Ben Shemen Forest and burned down almost the entire adjacent community of Mevo Modi’im in central Israel.

Fueled by the scorching weather, more than a thousand fires devastated towns and forests across the country from Thursday to Saturday, forcing thousands of people out of their homes.

Some 50 houses burned down in central Israel — 40 of the 50 homes in Mevo Modi’im and 10 more in the nearby Kibbutz Harel. Residents of the two communities have not been allowed to return home.

Authorities investigating the fires were looking at electrical faults, Lag B’Omer holiday bonfires, arson and incendiary balloons from the Gaza Strip as possible causes for the various fires countrywide.

View of a fire raging in near the Ben Shemen Forest, on May 23, 2019. (Flash90)

After an investigation into the Mevo Modiim blaze, the fire service determined it was sparked in several different spots, raising suspicion of arson.

Officials had previously blamed the fire on a faulty Israel Electric Corporation power line.

The power company had rejected that conclusion, saying its own expert had come to the opposite conclusion and that a joint committee would be formed to determine the source of the blaze.

Authorities are also investigating the cause of other blazes.

More than a thousand firefighters were dispatched late last week throughout the country to battle the 1,023 blazes that started over a period of 41 hours — a new fire every two and a half minutes, officials said. Thirteen firefighters were lightly injured.

The blazes burned down 7,940 dunams (1,962 acres) of forests, according to authorities’ data. One of the areas that suffered the worst damage was the Ben Shemen Forest.

Mevo Modi’im residents, who are staying in the Ben Shemen Youth Village, held a Havdalah ceremony marking the end of the Shabbat day of rest in unexpectedly high spirits, vowing to rebuild their mostly religious community after many of their childhood homes were destroyed.

“We were hit by a disaster, but Shabbat is Shabbat and its sweetness gives us our lives,” Alon Tigar, chairman of the association that runs the community, told the Ynet news site. “We are a strong community and we will build Mevo Modi’im 2.0, we have the hope. I spoke with government officials and they promised to help. I hope they make good on their word.”

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