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Forest fire near Beit Shemesh under control as evidence of arson mounts

19 teams, 4 planes fight blazes in several locations in Begin Park; woman in her 30s arrested

Fires are seen in the Begin Park near Beit Shemesh, October 8, 2021. (Fire and Rescue Services)
Fires are seen in the Begin Park near Beit Shemesh, October 8, 2021. (Fire and Rescue Services)

More than a dozen firefighting teams brought a blaze under control at a park in the Judean Hills near Beit Shemesh on Friday, as evidence of arson mounted.

Nineteen firefighting teams and four planes have worked since Thursday afternoon to counter the fires that erupted in at least seven different locations in Begin Park.

By Friday morning, just two of the blaze sites remained but were not yet under control, a spokesperson for the Israel Fire and Rescue Services said, adding they hoped to put out the fire before winds were due to pick up later in the day.

“The task this morning is to take advantage of the window of opportunity and complete the firefighting work against what is still burning so that the fire will not be strengthened by the winds that are expected to intensify in the afternoon,” Jerusalem district chief Nissim Toito said.

On Friday afternoon the remaining blazes were brought under control, police said.

Authorities said that there was no immediate danger to residential areas.

On Thursday evening, a woman in her 30s was arrested on suspicion of arson, after the multiple fire sites led to suspicions that the blaze was set intentionally.

Evidence of attempted arson was also found on Friday morning by the commander of the Beit Shemesh fire station.

In an image released by the fire services, a patch of scorched land can be seen, with a face mask hanging from a tree branch above it.

Evidence of attempted arson is found in Begin Park near Beit Shemesh, October 8, 2021. (Fire and Rescue Services)

The seven sites were located dozens of meters from each other, in an area which is difficult to get to, fire officials said, adding that it supports the testimony of the person who first reported the incident.

The unidentified caller had said they saw an off-road vehicle with a person in it carrying a torch, lighting areas along their driving route.

Police scanning the area on Thursday night located a woman aged around 30, a resident of the West Bank settlement of Hashmonaim who had been reported missing several hours earlier. Police described her as an “at-risk individual,” but gave no further details.

After questioning the woman and collecting evidence at the scene, police arrested her on suspicion of starting the fires. On Friday, a court extended her remand by six days.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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