Hours before the country was set to celebrate an annual festival that centers on lighting bonfires, the Israel Fire and Rescue Services laid down strict restrictions Wednesday against the practice due to the dry weather conditions, including a blanket ban on bonfires in large swaths of territory in the wooded north of the country.
Several city authorities also asked the public not to light bonfires, and the Education Ministry told schools that it would not approve any bonfire events organized by education institutes to mark Lag B’Omer.
The cities of Haifa, Nesher, Hadera, Modiin, and Tel Aviv all asked residents not to light fires.
Despite heavy downpours in some areas last week, the country has seen mostly hot, dry weather over the past few days, raising concerns that bonfires could spread.
The Environmental Protection Ministry said in a statement that the fire service has the authority to prohibit bonfires over safety concerns, as do local authorities.
The firefighting service banned fires in wooded areas in the northern Carmel region west of Route 75, north and west of Route 70, and east of Route 4.
In addition, fires were banned in the mountainous areas north of Route 77 and Route 79, east of Route 4, and west of Route 90 along the Golan Heights. And in the central regions, fires were prohibited east of Route 38, north of Route 35, and south of Route 443.
The fire service also published restrictions on lighting bonfires in other areas, including a blanket ban on fires in open spaces. Even specially designated areas for bonfires within wooded areas should not be used, fire fighters warned.
Among the instructions were to light fires in a pit; at least 300 meters away from wooded areas, 60 meters away from natural gas or fuel storage points, 20 meters from telephone lines, and 40 meters from buildings; and to leave a six-meter space between bonfires. Firefighters said bonfires should be no bigger than three meters at the base and not piled higher than 1.5 meters tall.
Fires made outside of pits should have increased safety distances, and be at least 500 meters away from wooded areas, the fire service said.
The restrictions are to remain in force from Wednesday afternoon until Thursday evening.
The one-day Lag B’Omer festival, which falls between the Passover and Shavuot festivals and this year begins on Wednesday night, is embraced by youngsters who spend days or weeks gathering wood for bonfires.
Israel Fire Commissioner Dedi Simchi held a situation assessment during the morning that included a review of weather forecasts and available firefighting resources.
“I call on all parents and children to follow the safety instructions including lighting [only] small bonfires and maintaining a distance from forests and wooded areas and flammable material that could threaten property or life,” he said.
Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan tweeted an appeal for the public to heed the safety warnings.
The Environment Protection Ministry suggested that due to the harsh conditions, the public find other ways to mark the festival. Those who do decide to light a bonfire should keep it small and put it out quickly, and follow the fire service’s instructions, the ministry said.
The Health Ministry issued a statement urging adult supervision of bonfires and observation of safety precautions, including wearing clothes that cover the arms and legs to avoid sparks from the fire or insects that are drawn by the heat.
In 2010, a forest fire in the Carmel region killed 44 people and caused wide devastation to forests and property. Although not related to Lag B’Omer, the disaster led to a thorough review of fire precautions in forests and wooded areas.
Lag B’Omer is a key holiday in the Jewish mystical tradition. It is said to be the day, in the 2nd century CE, of the sage Rabbi Shimon Bar Yohai’s death, and also the day when he first conveyed the text of the seminal Jewish mystical work, the Zohar. Bar Yohai’s tomb is located at Meron, where each year on Lag B’Omer hundreds of thousands of Israelis converge to light bonfires throughout the night.