Firefighters battle hundreds of blazes as Israel sizzles under blistering heatwave

Temperatures reach as high as 111.2°F, with wind speeds reaching nearly 30 mph, as authorities scramble to prevent civilian harm and major property damage

A fire near Shilat in central Israel on June 2, 2023. (Fire and Rescue Services)
A fire near Shilat in central Israel on June 2, 2023. (Fire and Rescue Services)

Israel simmered under a severe heat wave Friday as temperatures topped 38°C (100°F) in most places and high winds whipped up hundreds of fires across the country, shuttering roads and forcing some buildings to be evacuated.

One man was hospitalized with heatstroke, but no other major injuries from the dangerous weather were reported. Firefighters managed to act quickly to control the brushfires, limiting property damage.

Temperatures reached as high as 44°C (111.2°F) along the Gaza border, 45°C (113°F) in the Jordan Valley, 43°C (109°F) in Tel Aviv, 35°C (95°F) in Jerusalem and 38°C (100°F) in Haifa.

Rolling blackouts were reported throughout the country as the electricity grid struggled to keep up with high demand for air conditioning.

Sustained wind speeds reached nearly 30 mph in the southern city of Arad and the central town of Beit Dagan, according to the Israel Meteorological Service.

Fire officials said there had been at least 220 brushfires nationwide as of 6:30 p.m.

The largest fires took place in the central town of Beit Hanan, where several homes reportedly suffered fire damage, the coastal town of Palmachim, the town of Shilat that straddles the Green Line, the northern town of Kerem Maharal, the nearby Iron Junction, and the southern town of Kiryat Malachi.

At Kastina Junction near Kiryat Malachi, firefighters were attempting to keep flames from reaching dangerous chemicals stored at a pharmaceutical plant, including canisters of explosive gas. Nearby, buildings were evacuated and Route 3 was shut down in the area as extra crews from around the country were brought in.

The Kerem Maharal fire forced law enforcement to temporarily shut down Route 4 from the Atlit to Ofer Junctions. Nearly 30 firefighting teams, including squads in airtankers, were dispatched to the scene to help extinguish the blaze.

A fire near Shilat in central Israel on June 2, 2023. (Fire and Rescue Services)

The fire caused damage to electrical lines in the area, leading to temporary power outages. Adjacent municipalities were ordered to evacuate their buildings, including a daycare, a community center and a mental health center. The fire and rescue service clarified that residents of nearby towns were not in imminent danger.

Outside of Jerusalem, air tankers and six firefighting squads worked to extinguish a forest fire near the town of Tel Shachar. Authorities briefly ordered Israel Railways to halt train service between Lod and Beit Shemesh as a precaution.

Firefighters were also working in the central town of Elyakim to prevent a brushfire that started in an open field from reaching a military base in the area.

Brushfires broke out in open fields in the nearby towns of Rahat and Beersheba.

In the central region near the West Bank, a blaze near the towns of Shilat and Modi’in briefly halted traffic, as 10 firefighting squads and an airtanker raced to extinguish it.

Closer to the coast near Palmachim and Beit Hanan, eight firefighting squads were working to put out a fire that had surrounded a horse stable. The Fire and Rescue Services said that nearby homes and a military base were also in the line of fire.

The fire at the northern Iron Junction was whipping toward the nearby town of Salem, putting residents there in danger, authorities said. Several air tankers were operating above the scene to try and extinguish the fire.

In the Kula Forest near the town of Elad, a 24-year-old man collapsed from heatstroke while he was working out. He was taken to a hospital in moderate condition.

Adding to the hot mess were rolling blackouts, which the company managing Israel’s electric grid blamed on the weather, a dearth of solar energy due to the sun setting and dust covering solar panels, and technical malfunctions at a power plant. It estimated that power would be restored around 9 p.m.

“We ask the citizens of Israel not to turn on electrical appliances that are not essential today,” Noga, the semi-governmental firm, said in a statement.

The Israel Electric Corp. later tweeted a statement appearing to blame Noga for poor planning ahead of the heatwave.

“The Electric Corp. is obligated to act and make plans only under the instruction of [Noga] regarding anything to do with preparing for extreme scenarios,” it said.

The extreme temperatures on Friday came a day after powerful winds buffeted the country, kicking up massive clouds of sand and dust and knocking down trees and cranes.

No fatalities from the wild weather were reported in Israel, where sustained winds of over 50 kilometers (31 miles) per hour were recorded, with gusts as high as 100 kph (62 mph) in Ashkelon, according to the Meteorological Service.

Over 170 fires broke out across Israel during a similar heatwave last weekend, which caused some damage but no injuries.

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