Ordinary Israelis on Thursday were doing what they could to help the 75,000 Haifa residents who were evacuated from their homes due to fires that raged in and around the port city, destroying buildings and wooded areas.
Dozens of organizations and local councils, including the Islamic Movement in Israel, the Kibbutz Movement, the Bnei Akiva youth movement and the Zionist Union party, set up services to enable the public to host evacuees in their homes.
Fire-fighting aircraft and hundreds of fire crews on the ground spent much of the day trying to extinguish a series of blazes in the Haifa area, struggling to contain flames that were fanned by strong winds and spread through parched brush following an unseasonable dry spell. The fires came after over the past few days sporadic blazes flared up at various locations around the country straining Israel’s fire-fighting services.
Residents of a total of 11 neighborhoods in Haifa, which also has a large Israeli Arab community, were ordered to leave their homes, as fires in at least five locations consumed homes and businesses. By late afternoon, more than 100 people in the Haifa area had been treated for fire-related injuries, mostly smoke inhalation.
Hotels and guesthouses also opened their doors, while private citizens set up groups on social media to help match the homeless with hosts.
Many private individuals also stepped forward to help the Haifa residents.
Dvir Wasser from Jerusalem and Benny Silwani from Katzrin on the Golan Heights, gained experience during the 2008 IDF Operation Cast Lead in the Gaza Strip when rockets fired by Hamas into Israel forced residents of the border town of Sderot to seek safety away from the fighting.
Wasser and Silwani visited various relief centers that the Haifa municipality opened for evacuated residents, and then put those who were interested in being hosted in contact with those who are willing to take them in, Ynet reported.
“There are enormous halls packed with people who can’t go home and need to start thinking about the evening, to find them somewhere to sleep, food and clothes,” Wasser said.
Organizations from across the political spectrum played their part too.
In a statement the Islamic Movement in Israel, a group that works to promote Islam in the country, said it was establishing an emergency situations room in the town of Kfar Qassem and announced its “willingness to help and take in families evacuated from the fire incidents all over the country.”
“In all of the Arab communities the hosting is for citizens, Arabs, Christians, and Jews, without differentiation,” the movement said. “Dozens of families from the Arab population are prepared to host families harmed by the fires in Haifa and the country, Jews and Arabs alike.”
The Zionist Union party opened a webpage on behalf of families willing to taken in Haifa refugees. The Hebrew webpage included a form which potential hosts could fill out with their contact details.
City councils in Ramat Gan, Givatayim, Ra’anana, and Arad all set up hotlines to coordinate between local residents ready to host, and those from Haifa who needed somewhere to stay.
The Kfar Etzion field school in the West Bank invited families driven from their homes by the fires to stay at their bed and breakfast facilities without charge, and the Israel National Fund opened up its field school in Ness Harim for families looking for somewhere to stay.
The Afeka College of Engineering in Tel Aviv opened an email account dedicated to answering queries from students willing to volunteer to help as well as for those seeking assistance, the Hebrew-language Ynet website reported. In addition to donating food and clothes, some students offered to host those those who had been evacuated in student lodgings.
Others focused on preventing any further blazes. The HaShomer HaChadash organization, a volunteer guard group that focuses on protecting farmland, opened up a control center to coordinator hundreds of volunteers who will set up observation spots to keep an eye out for fresh fires and those who may be starting the blazes.
Veterinary organizations and animal rights protection groups offered to taken in any pets from families who have been evacuated and are now unable to take care or the animals, setting up an emergency line.
The Kibbutz Movement said in a statement on its webpage that it was ready to host families at Kibbutzim across the country and opened a phone line for details.
“We invite anyone who was harmed by the fires around the country,” deputy director general of the Kibbutz movement Gil Lin said. “They will find in the kibbutzim near to them a place to “rest their heads,” food and anything else we can help with.”
Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.