One fire thought linked to airsoft game activities

Homes and hikers evacuated as firefighters battle over 170 blazes amid heatwave

No injuries reported; with rain expected, police warn of flash floods; abandoned cars engulfed by flames in nature reserve near Gaza; 6 rescued when swept out at Sea of Galilee

Cars burned in a large brush fire at Har Turan in the Galilee region, May 27, 2023 (Fire and Rescue Services)
Cars burned in a large brush fire at Har Turan in the Galilee region, May 27, 2023 (Fire and Rescue Services)

Fire services battled multiple blazes across the country on Saturday as the country sweltered under a heatwave that brought strong winds to fan the flames.

By the evening, fire and rescue services said forces had responded to some 176 fires across the country since the morning.

Homes were evacuated in two communities, and hikers were told to leave a number of parks and forests.

There were no reports of injuries.

A large fire broke out at the Karmia nature reserve, north of the Gaza Strip, and police said they were working to locate hikers in the area for evacuation.

According to reports, a number of people were forced to abandon their vehicles as the flames approached and at least two cars caught fire.

The Fire and Rescue Services said a group of 100 people had arrived at the Galilee’s Har Turan region to play airsoft gun games. One group of them set a small brushfire that quickly spread to adjacent fields.

Another group of the airsoft players barbecued in an unregulated area, leading to an additional fire.

A third blaze broke out near the northern coastal city of Acre, causing traffic disruption as heavy smoke drifted toward an interchange.

In addition, a number of homes were evacuated in the Tsur Moshe community near Netanya and in Mazra’a near Acre as flames neared residential areas.

Authorities said later Saturday that they had detained three suspects for questioning over another fire in the Karmiya Forest just north of Gaza.

As a result of the various incidents, the Fire and Rescue Services issued an order barring Israelis from lighting fires in open fields for the remainder of the day.

Temperatures soared across the country as dust and haze clouded the skies, reaching 35-40°C (95-104°F) at various locations.

Many in Israel were taking advantage of the Shavuot holiday’s long weekend to travel and hike, complicating the situation for authorities.

Due to the extreme weather conditions, Fire and Rescue Commissioner Eyal Caspi signed an order prohibiting the lighting of fires in open areas throughout the country from 8:00 a.m.

The order will remain in effect for 24 hours and came amid concerns that the dry, hot weather and strong winds could increase the chance of fires spreading.

The ban applies to lighting fires in parks, forests and nature reserves.

The vast majority of forest fires in Israel are manmade and are usually the result of negligence.

Israel experiences long, hot and dry summers, with conditions ripe for wildfires. Large blazes broke out in 1989, 1995, 2010, 2015, 2019 and 2021.

Climate models show that such large-scale blazes are getting more frequent and more fast-spreading, in part due to the climate crisis raising temperatures and causing even more extreme summers with drier conditions.

Meanwhile, six young people were rescued at the Sea of Galilee after they were swept out by strong winds. Lifeguards from a number of nearby beaches were dispatched to save the group.

Illustrative: Israelis enjoy the beaches of the Kinneret, the Sea of Galilee, Northern Israel, during the Jewish holiday of Passover, on April 1, 2018. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

With rain forecast in some parts of the country, and wintery conditions expected to worsen on Sunday and Monday, authorities said there was also a chance of potentially dangerous flash floods.

Police advised the public to stay away from riverbeds in the south during the coming days and said motorists should under no circumstances attempt to drive through bodies of water.

Last month, brother and sister Ma’ayan, 24, and Sahar, 17, Assor, both residents of the northern city of Tiberias, were killed after their car was carried away by a flash flood in southern Israel.

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