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Investigators suspect two wildfires sparked by arson

Over 200 blazes extinguished by firefighters during day of hot, dry and dusty weather conditions; fire in northern town of Gita damages 6 homes

A house damaged by fire in the northern village of Gita, November 13, 2021 (Israel Fire and Rescue Services)
A house damaged by fire in the northern village of Gita, November 13, 2021 (Israel Fire and Rescue Services)

Authorities believe at least two massive wildfires on Saturday were started intentionally, according to the results of an initial investigation conducted by fire officials.

The suspicious fires broke out near Gita in northern Israel and near Zeitan in central Israel, adjacent to Ben Gurion International Airport. Some residents of both communities were temporarily evacuated during the day, and six homes in Gita were damaged by flames.

There were no reports of injuries in either of the blazes.

Israel saw a rash of wildfires nationwide on Saturday amid hot, dry and dusty conditions.

Hundreds of families were evacuated from their homes as more than 200 fires raged throughout the country, the spokesperson for the Israel Fire and Rescue Services said.

“In some of the areas, evidence of arson was found,” the official said in a statement. There were no further details provided by the fire services.

A house damaged by fire in the northern village of Gita, November 13, 2021 (Israel Fire and Rescue Services)

In total, 212 blazes broke out in open fields amid the extreme weather conditions between 12 and 4 p.m on Saturday, according to an official tally.

The largest of the fires were brought under control and no longer posed a danger as of Saturday evening.

Firefighting planes carried out around 100 sorties and disbursed some 34,500 liters of material to extinguish the blazes.

Firefighters work to extinguish a fire near Kafr Yasif, November 13, 2021. (Fire and Rescue Services)

Strong easterly winds not only fanned the flames but also brought down a tree in a park in the central village of Burgeta, moderately injuring a 14-year-old girl.

The fires came as numerous national parks were closed to hikers over the weekend amid fears of large wildfires.

The Nature and Parks Authority announced Friday that all hiking paths in the Carmel Forest region (except for the Me’arot River reserve) were off-limits, as well as all trails in the Judean Mountains and Shfela region. The Amud Stream reserve in the Galilee was also closed, and all hiking on paths along the coast was prohibited between Hadera in the north and Zikim in the south.

On Saturday, officials said the Tel Dan nature reserve would also be shut down. A number of beaches at the Sea of Galilee were closed due to the high winds.

Firefighters work to extinguish a fire near Hadera, November 13, 2021. (Fire and Rescue Services)

The closures — effective through Sunday — came as the country was gripped with unseasonably warm weather on Saturday, reaching highs of 89°F (31°C) in the Dead Sea region, 82°F (27°C) in Haifa, and 86°F (30°C) in Tel Aviv.

A dense sandstorm blanketed parts of the country on Saturday afternoon, reducing visibility.

A nationwide fire ban, instituted earlier this week, remains in effect until November 30.

Israel continues to experience above-average temperatures and little rainfall.

Firefighters work to extinguish a fire near Yarka, November 13, 2021. (Fire and Rescue Services)

Some of Israel’s most devastating fires have come in November and December, including the December 2010 Carmel Fire which claimed 44 lives, and a nationwide outbreak of fires in late November 2016, which left thousands homeless.

Israel is still recovering from an August wildfire near Jerusalem which consumed some 25,000 dunams (6,200 acres) of forest, becoming the country’s largest-ever blaze.

At the time, Israel had been sweltering under yet another heatwave with low humidity, providing ideal conditions for the flames to spread.

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