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Dozens of homes burn in some 250 fires throughout Israel over weekend

Blazes that forced thousands to flee their homes largely brought under control Saturday; officials say residents not in danger ‘at this stage’ as majority allowed to return

Men escape fire in Bat Hefer on October 9, 2020 (Gili Yaari/Flash90)
Men escape fire in Bat Hefer on October 9, 2020 (Gili Yaari/Flash90)

Dozens of homes were destroyed as some 250 fires raged throughout the country, authorities said Saturday.

Some 20 homes were burned on Friday in Nof Hagalil in northern Israel, while several more went up in flames in the West Bank settlement of Kfar HaOranim. Two people were treated by paramedics for smoke inhalation.

Fire and Rescue Commissioner Dedi Simchi told Kan news that teams “faced some 250 fires throughout the country, with 13 very large fires.”

Some 10,000 people were forced to flee their homes due to the various fires. Most have since returned home. Engineers performed checks on some damaged homes.

Firefighters continued on Saturday morning to battle a few fires, but blazes were largely brought under control.

Channel 12 news reported that there were still fires burning in the Churchill Forest near the town on Saturday morning and that 3,000 dunams (741 acres) had been destroyed so far.

The scene where a fire broke out in near Misgav Am, northern Israel, on October 9, 2020 (Basel Awidat/Flash90)

Northern firefighter commander Nizar Fares said that six firefighting planes had resumed operations in the area.

“Firefighters continue to stubbornly fight to stop the spread of fire and protect the residents of Nof Hagalil and their homes,” said Fares. “Overnight we prepared for the continuation of the campaign, and at this stage the residents are not in any danger. The firefighting efforts will continue throughout the day. I call on the public to obey the instructions of the emergency bodies.”

Kan reported an additional fire broke out in the Mount Dov region, near the Lebanon border.

Simchi said investigators were starting to probe the cause of the fires, but that many were likely caused by human factors.

“We don’t yet know if it was negligence or deliberate,” he said.

The Ynet news site quoted unnamed security officials as saying that there was concern some of the fires in the West Bank may have been deliberately started by Palestinians. Palestinian arson was widely blamed for many of the fires in 2016, when a series of brushfires burned tens of thousands of acres, wounded some 200 people, and damaged or destroyed hundreds of homes. Ultimately no one was prosecuted for nationalistically-motivated arson.

Palestinian sources said several blazes were caused by IDF smoke and tear gas canisters fired during clashes with Palestinian protesters.

Wildfires also hit other Middle East countries amid an intense heatwave in the region.

One of the hardest hit countries is war-torn Syria where fires have killed two people and left dozens suffering from breathing problems over the past two days. The wildfires also burnt wide areas of forests, mostly in the central province of Homs and the coastal province of Latakia.

In Lebanon, firefighters backed by army helicopters fought fires in the country’s north, center and south. A big fire in the southern village of Bater burnt hundreds of pine trees and was getting close to homes when it was put under control.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Friday held urgent consultations on the fires, saying that he would call for international assistance if the situation deteriorated.

“I received updates from the fire department chief and I asked him to ensure that we are using all our resources, and if need be, consider international assistance,” Netanyahu tweeted after meeting with internal security, police and National Security Council officials.

A statement from his office said that he was assured that currently, the situation was under control and that firefighters were being assisted by the police and the Israel Defense Force’s Home Front Command.

A fire rages near the Kfar HaOranim settlement in the West Bank, October 9, 2020 (Yossi Aloni/Flash90)

Israel formed a regional fire-fighting alliance with Cyprus and Greece after Israel was devastated by the 2016 fires.

The country was forced to ask allies to send firefighting planes and other equipment and personnel to help fight the blazes, that were also largely caused by a late fall heatwave with dry weather and strong winds.

Palestinians fight a fire that was reportedly caused by tear gas canisters fired by Israeli soldiers while trying to block protesters from reaching an Israeli settler outpost, in the West Bank village of Beit Dajan, east of Nablus, Friday, Oct. 9, 2020. (AP Photo/Nasser Nasser)

As well as the blaze near Nof Hagalil, firefighters also battled large fires on Friday near six other communities, with thousands more people being evacuated.

In the West Bank settlement of Kfar HaOranim near the city of Modiin, several houses were destroyed before firefighters managed to gain control of the blaze.

View of the damage caused to a house during a wildfire in Kfar HaOranim, near the city of Modiin, on October 9, 2020 (Yossi Aloni/Flash90)

The IDF said that dozens of its soldiers had been dispatched to the Mevo Dotan settlement along with the central town of Bat Hefer to assist in the evacuation of families whose homes were in the line of fire.

Another large fire was reported near Umm al-Qutuf, east of Hadera. Some 13 firefighting teams were at the scene and working to douse the flames. Residents were evacuated from the Arab village, as well as from nearby Kafr Qara and Ar’ara.

Blazes had also broken out near the towns of Hadera, Emek Hefer, Nazareth, Umm al-Qutuf, Fureidis, Margaliot and Lapidot.

Elsewhere in the West Bank, the Palestinian Civil Defense was fighting 60 fires across areas controlled by the Palestinian Authority, the agency said.

A rare October heatwave ramped up over Israel on Thursday, bringing blazing temperatures to many parts of the country as an alarmingly hot summer and fall continued to grip the region.

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