Israel braces for fresh fire flare-up as temperatures set to skyrocket
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Israel braces for fresh fire flare-up as temperatures set to skyrocket

Help from four countries expected to arrive as officials warn brush fire outbreak could worsen with scorching heat and wind, day after dozens of homes destroyed in blazes

Firefighters try to extinguish a forest fire near Kibbutz Harel on May 23, 2019. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Firefighters try to extinguish a forest fire near Kibbutz Harel on May 23, 2019. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Firefighters were bracing Friday for a fresh outbreak of wildfires, with temperatures expected to soar across the country a day after hot and dry conditions caused a rash of brushfires that consumed buildings and forced thousands from their homes.

Authorities were reportedly mulling declaring a national emergency Friday over fire fears. Temperatures are expected to reach a sweltering 110º F (43º C) in some areas between Jerusalem and Tel Aviv. The Dead Sea and Jordan Valley are expected to see even higher temperatures, including an egg-frying 118º F (48º C) at the lowest place on earth.

Adding to mother nature’s woes are fears of airborne arson attacks from Gaza, with Fridays typically seeing an increase in tensions along the restive frontier.

Firefighters worked all day Thursday to gain control over a series of wildfires that broke out in the Ben Shemen forest outside the central city of Modiin, and in other communities in wooded areas west of Jerusalem. The head of Fire and Rescue Services called up all firefighters in the central region in view of the large number of blazes in the area.

Italy, Greece, Cyprus and Croatia said they would dispatch firefighting aircraft to Israel Friday morning, after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu put out an urgent plea for international help in battling the blazes.

Firefighter planes work to put out a fire raging in near Kibbutz Harel on May 23, 2019. (Flash90)

Netanyahu spoke with senior Israeli fire officials late Thursday and told them not to spare any resources in fighting the fires, according to the Walla news site.

Dozens of homes were reportedly burned and some 3,500 people were forced from their homes by the fires.

The village of Mevo Modiim, founded by musician Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach inside the Ben Shemen forest east of the Tel Aviv area, saw some of the worst damage.

Pictures and videos showed a massive wall of flame sweeping through the community and many of the small town’s homes destroyed by fire. All but 10 of the village’s homes were badly damaged by the fire, according to the Ynet news site.

Effects of a fire in the central town of Mevo Modiim on May 23, 2019. (Israel Fire Service)

Much of the surrounding woodland was also ravaged, with a number of other small towns in the area being evacuated, and Route 443, a major highway running from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, closed for much of Thursday and into Friday.

Gilad Semtai, an official with KKL-JNF, which manages forestry for the state, told Army Radio that 40 percent of the forest went up in flames.

Wooded areas outside the city of Beit Shemesh also saw an outbreak of fires, with at least six homes in Kibbutz Harel destroyed.

A picture taken on May 23, 2019 shows the ruins of a house that was destroyed by fire amid extreme heat wave in Kibbutz Harel in central Israel on May 23, 2019. (Ahmad GHARABLI / AFP)

While Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan said arson was not suspected, a series of fires in the Gaza region was blamed on balloon-borne incendiary devices being sent over the border.

Officials fear Friday may see even more attempts to start fires in the Gaza border region.

Firefighters battle a blaze near Kibbutz Harel in central Israel, May 23, 2019. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

“The balloon terror may get worse tomorrow depending on the wind direction, after a few of their attempts failed today,” a fire official in the region told Army Radio.

In the Red Sea resort city of Eilat, a fire damaged an electric pole, cutting electricity to much of the city overnight and leaving sweating residents and tourists without air conditioning, according to the Ynet news site. Temperatures in the area on Friday are expected to rocket to 107º F (42º C).

The mercury is expected to fall Saturday to more seasonable temperatures, though still hotter than average.

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