Homes and park evacuated as large fire spreads near Petah Tikva

Train service delayed due to damaged signaling equipment, with strong winds fanning flames; blaze also erupts at Biriya Forest in Upper Galilee

Firefighters tackle a forest fire at Segula Junction on May 22, 2023. (Fire and Rescue Service)
Firefighters tackle a forest fire at Segula Junction on May 22, 2023. (Fire and Rescue Service)

A number of homes and 200 students were evacuated Monday as a massive fire spread near the central city of Petah Tikva, also damaging train equipment and causing transportation delays.

Twenty-four fire teams from across the center of the country were called in to assist with the efforts as the flames, fanned by strong winds, spread close to Segula Junction.

Around 200 students were evacuated from a nearby park and a number of roads were closed. There were no injuries reported and it was unclear how the fire had started.

A number of homes at nearby Kfar HaBaptistim were also evacuated amid concerns they could be endangered by the fast-spreading flames.

There were train delays in the area after the fire damaged signaling equipment outside Petah Tikva. A replacement bus service was running between Tel Aviv’s Savidor train station and Petah Tikva and Rosh Ha’ayin.

According to the Ynet news site, fire services estimated it would take a number of hours to fully extinguish the fire.

A fire at Segula Junction on May 22, 2023 (Fire and Rescue Service)

Meanwhile, four firefighting planes were deployed to help fight a blaze at Biriya Forest in the Upper Galilee region.

Teams on the ground from the Israel Fire and Rescue Service as well as the KKL-JNF Jewish National Fund worked on the eastern slopes of the forest to try to prevent further spread of the fire.

It was unclear how the fire started. The vast majority of forest fires in Israel are manmade and are usually the result of negligence.

There were no immediate reports of injuries, but hikers were advised to stay away from the area.

Israel experiences long, hot and dry summers, with conditions ripe for wildfires. Large blazes broke out in 1989, 1995, 2010, 2015, 2019, and 2021. Most of them are suspected to have been sparked by negligence or arson.

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.

Governmental authorities and other bodies have worked to prepare for the 2023 wildfire season, clearing underbrush and other overgrown flora that could provide fuel for brush fires.

A 2017 government report advised establishing a single supervisory body to oversee a coordinated nationwide effort to implement fire prevention measures in all Israel’s forests, irrespective of who owns or manages them. The recommendation has never been implemented.

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