Fires raged across Israel on Thursday, forcing residents of several communities to flee their homes and blocking major roads as temperatures soared throughout the country in what authorities said was an “extreme” heat wave.
Firefighters were battling a large fire in the Ben Shemen Forest near the central city of Modiin. Some residents in the nearby communities of Kfar Daniel, Mevo Modiim and Gimzo were evacuated from their homes and Route 443, a key road linking Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, was closed.
Witnesses said homes were on fire in Mevo Modiim and Kibbutz Harel, which lies southwest of Modiin. At least 10 homes were destroyed in Mevo Modiim.
Some 22 people were hospitalized for smoke inhalation, including 2 in moderate condition, according to Magen David Adom spokesman Zaki Heller.
In Jerusalem, an 80-year-old man was hospitalized at the Shaare Zedek Medical Center after collapsing from an apparent heatstroke. The man was said to be in serious condition.
Southern District Fire Department Chief Shmulik Friedman said authorities are considering reaching out to Cyprus, Greece and Croatia to help battle the dozens of fires raging across the country.
Noga, a Harel resident who runs a day care in the kibbutz and was evacuated by firefighters together with the children in her care, told the Maariv news site, “The most important thing is that the kids are okay. Everyone is okay. I’ve never experienced anything like this in my entire life on the kibbutz.”
She said residents “were being taken to villages nearby. I hope my home is okay. I understand a few homes were damaged.”
The head of Fire and Rescue Services called up all firefighters in the central region in light of the large number of blazes in the area.
Near the city of Beit Shemesh, to the southwest of Jerusalem, six firefighting planes were called in to help extinguish a series of fires that had been raging since the morning.
A firefighting plane was also working alongside rescue teams to douse a major blaze near the central Israeli town of Elad, which Hebrew media reports said was believed to have begun from an improperly extinguished bonfire for the Lag B’Omer holiday.
Ahead of Lag B’Omer, which began Wednesday evening, permits to light bonfires were restricted in light of the weather conditions.
Temperatures hit 37° C (99° F) in Tel Aviv and 43° C (110° F) in Beersheba in the Negev. The heatwave is set to peak Friday before letting up on Saturday.
In the West Bank, police evacuated some 30 families from their homes in the Beit Hagai settlement as a fire approached the community.
A spokesman for the Har Hebron Regional Council, the southern West Bank municipality where Beit Hagai is located, said firefighters were able to contain the blaze and prevent it from approaching the homes. He said one person required treatment after being lightly injured from smoke inhalation.
Elsewhere in the West Bank, firefighters rescued a baby and two children after a fire broke out in a home in the Beitar Illit settlement south of Jerusalem.
Several fires in the south, near Gaza, were believed to have been sparked by incendiary devices launched from the Gaza Strip. One blaze in Karmia led to the evacuation of the tiny kibbutz, which lies just north of the Strip. Road 3411 near Karmia was closed to traffic.
Firefighters were battling another blaze in Be’eri Forest.
Numerous fires broke out in the south the previous day, on Wednesday, as a result of flaming airborne devices launched from Gaza, leading Israel to restrict the permitted fishing area off the coastal enclave.
Due to Thursday’s weather, Israel Railways announced it was limiting service in some areas as the heat was causing train tracks to expand.
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