A major blaze Sunday in the Jerusalem area was caused by arson, authorities said Monday. Some 300 dunams (74 acres) of woodland were consumed in the wildfire that blazed in Jerusalem’s southern reaches.
Officials said Monday the blaze was started deliberately, Army Radio reported. They found two bottles that had contained inflammable material used to start the blaze near the hillside village of Even Sapir, southwest of the capital, the report said.
The fire forced the evacuation of hundreds of residents from the area. Chicken coops, some with the birds still inside, went up in flames as firefighters struggled for eight hours to contain the blaze on one of the hottest days of the year thus far.
Four firefighters were hospitalized for burns, smoke inhalation and wounds sustained from falling. Several warehouses were burned, along with a handful of apartments and houses in Even Sapir, Ynet reported. No residents were hurt in the blaze.
Some 160 firefighters and volunteers participated in the effort to contain the fire, which raged for hours after it was first reported a few minutes after noon on Sunday. Firefighting teams from the Air Force and the Jewish National Fund joined the local crews, while the IDF Homefront Command contributed water containers and 13 planes were deployed in the effort.
Eyal Cohen, deputy head of the Jerusalem Fire and Rescue Services, told the Israeli website that the crews’ efforts were hampered by the high temperatures of the heat wave, which reached as high as 40 degrees Celsius (just over 104 degrees Fahrenheit) at mid-day Sunday.
Only the massive coordinated effort, which saw crews arriving from Haifa and the Galilee, prevented the fire from spreading to Hadassah Ein Karem Hospital, the villages of Ora and Aminadav, and the nearby Monastery of St. John in the Wilderness, Cohen said.
Although the smell of charred wood was carried on the wind across Jerusalem, the Environmental Protection Ministry said it had tested the air quality in the area and there was no danger to the capital’s residents or a need to remain indoors.
Police temporarily closed Route 1, the main Tel Aviv-Jerusalem highway, on Sunday afternoon after the flames neared the highway. The road was later reopened.
The hot, dry conditions made containing the fire more challenging for firefighters.
In recent weeks, a wave of fires in Jerusalem suburbs burned more than 1,500 dunams (370 acres) of forest. Police suspect arsonists in some of the cases, and have found the remains of Molotov cocktails where they believe the blazes started.
Firefighters also worked Sunday to douse two other blazes, near the West Bank settlement of Elon Moreh outside Nablus; and near the IDF’s Ofer base, also in the West Bank, located between Jerusalem and Ramallah.