Fire chief bans bonfires on Lag B’Omer festival outside of designated areas

Health and environmental protection ministries join call against traditional celebrations with fires, tens of thousands of which are expected to be lit across the country

People celebrate Lag B'Omer near a bonfire, in Kiryat Sefer on May 22, 2019. (Yossi Zeliger/Flash90)
People celebrate Lag B'Omer near a bonfire, in Kiryat Sefer on May 22, 2019. (Yossi Zeliger/Flash90)

Fire and Rescue Commissioner Eyal Caspi on Sunday signed an order banning most bonfires throughout Israel during the coming Lag B’Omer festival this week.

The annual Jewish holiday of Lag B’Omer, which this year begins Wednesday night, is usually celebrated across the country with bonfires and celebrations that continue through the night.

The ban on bonfires is to begin from Monday morning until Friday evening, though they will be permitted in some authorized areas. Lag B’Omer begins Wednesday night.

Caspi said in a statement from the Fire and Rescue Authority that the ban is intended to reduce as much as possible injury and damage to property during the holiday from the “inherent danger of lighting fires in open areas and the urban environment.”

The decision was made following a situation assessment that took into consideration the plentiful rainfall in recent winters that allowed the growth of scrub, “which constitutes a dangerous fire potential to people, the environment and property.”

In a joint statement, the Health and Environmental Protection Ministries also called on the public not to light bonfires, and proposed finding other ways to celebrate the festival.

Aside from skipping the bonfire tradition, the ministries urged the public to clean up after themselves and refrain from using disposable tableware.

Environmental Protection Tamar Zandberg attends a committee meeting, in the Knesset, in Jerusalem on November 15, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

“The bonfires cause air pollution and thus are hazardous to the health of those celebrating, and contribute to greenhouse gases that are warming the globe,” Environmental Protection Minister Tamar Zandberg said in the statement.

Health Minister Nitzan Horowitz said, “It is important to everyone to take care to reduce the health effects and celebrate the holiday in the safest way.”

There was a noticeable drop in air pollution during the 2021 holiday compared to previous years, which was attributed to people answering the call to not light fires, the statement said.

Air pollution detectors at 150 locations around the country found that last year, pollution over Lag B’Omer increased by 7.3 compared to a normal clear day, but in previous years, it had been 10 times as high.

Authorities expect that after two years of social limitations caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, this year will see tens of thousands of bonfires lit across the country.

Health Minister Nitzan Horowitz leads a meeting of his Meretz faction at the Knesset in Jerusalem on February 28, 2022. (Yonatan SindelFlash90)

Caspi said that each year dozens of children require medical treatment for injuries and that the fires cause health and environmental damage. The fire department issues similar orders every year but they are ignored by many revelers.

Caspi called on the public to act responsibility, obey orders, and celebrate in designated areas in accordance with rules and safety instructions laid out by the fire authority.

According to authority rules, bonfires may only be lit in open areas designated for the purpose by local authorities and that have been approved by the fire department.

Bonfires may not have a base of more than three meters or be built up to over 1.5 meters in height.

This year’s celebrations come under the shadow of the first anniversary of the Mount Meron disaster, when 45 people were crushed to death during a traditional pilgrimage to mark the holiday. It was Israel’s most deadly civilian disaster in history.

Security officials and rescuers at the scene of a fatal crush during Lag B’Omer celebrations at Mt. Meron in northern Israel, on April 30, 2021. (AP Photo)

Lag B’Omer has become a key holiday in the Jewish mystical tradition, said to be the day of the death of Shimon Bar Yohai, and the anniversary of when he first conveyed the text of the seminal Jewish mystical work, the Zohar.

It also marks the end of a minor mourning period recognizing the deaths of thousands of students of Rabbi Akiva in a plague.

In recent years, environmentalists have raised concerns over the impact from the bonfires lit across the country.

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