As firefighters struggled to contain huge blazes raging through the northern city of Haifa throughout Thursday, emergency services were battling dozens more small- to medium-scale conflagrations across the country.
Concentrated efforts focused on preventing a fire in the Sha’ar Hagai area in the Jerusalem hills from spreading toward a gas station on the Route 1 highway. Dozens of firetrucks were at the site, as firefighters battled flames in the Jerusalem forest.
Israel Police Commissioner Roni Alsheich confirmed Wednesday afternoon that some of the fires cropping up throughout the country were caused by arson, although he said it was unlikely they were the result of a coordinated effort.
Meanwhile, a small brush fire broke out on an empty plot of land adjacent to the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem, sending smoke billowing over the National Security Council building, across from the Hebrew University’s science laboratories, and into the nearby Beit Hakerem neighborhood.
At least two firefighting crews rushed to stop the flames, which threatened several nearby government agency buildings, and members of the prime minister’s security unit were on sight with fire extinguishers.
There were no immediate reports of injuries or property damage and the blaze appeared to have been contained, according to witnesses.
In central Israel, the community of Nirit was being evacuated in the afternoon, according to police, as a brush fire broke out in the nearby Horeshim Forest. Several kilometers east of Nirit, a fire broke out at the entrance to the upscale Savyon community, prompting police to close routes 461 and 4622. Police asked drivers to avoid the area.
Following a large fire Thursday morning at the eastern entrance to the central city of Modiin, a second blaze broke out in the afternoon on the western outskirts of the city. Firefighters were attempting to prevent the fire from damaging cars and building at the Paatei Modiin train station, which, along with the Central Modiin station was closed down, with commuters forced to use the Ben Gurion Airport train station some 15 kilometers away.
A brush fire also broke out at Kibbutz Barkai near Wadi Ara in northern Israel. The fire was heading toward homes in the area, and firefighting units were on their way to the scene. In Porat, outside the coastal city of Netanya, another brush fire was reported Thursday afternoon.
Authorities say unseasonably dry weather and high winds have stoked the flames, while police officials have said the sheer number of individual starting points, over 200 so far, point to arson as a likely cause in some of the fires. Alsheich, the police commissioner, said Thursday afternoon that there have been several arrests of suspected arsonists.
In the West Bank settlement of Talmon, residents were also evacuated Thursday, along with 300 pupils of a local school, as flames encroached on buildings, police said.
Several cars and structures in the Ramallah-area settlement have already suffered serious damage, according to police.
On Wednesday, a fire broke out between the settlement and the neighboring settlement of Dolev, though firefighters said early Thursday that the blaze had been brought under control.
A fire was also reported close to the Israel Electric Corporation’s huge coal-fired power station in coastal Hadera. Firefighters said the outbreak was under control.
The IEC has since declared a national emergency due to the large number of fires across the country.