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Massive forest fire near Jerusalem drives residents from homes

Six planes and dozens of firefighting units battle blaze that fire commissioner says was likely human-started, though not clear if deliberately or through negligence

Stuart Winer is a breaking news editor at The Times of Israel.

  • Firefighters try to extinguish a fire which broke out in a forest near Shoresh, outside of Jerusalem, August 3, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/FLASH90)
    Firefighters try to extinguish a fire which broke out in a forest near Shoresh, outside of Jerusalem, August 3, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/FLASH90)
  • Deck chairs are seen on a beach in front of smoke and flames rising from a forest fire on August 3, 2021, in the southwestern Turkish city of Mugla, as Turkey struggles against its deadliest wildfires in decades. (Photo by Yasin AKGUL / AFP)
    Deck chairs are seen on a beach in front of smoke and flames rising from a forest fire on August 3, 2021, in the southwestern Turkish city of Mugla, as Turkey struggles against its deadliest wildfires in decades. (Photo by Yasin AKGUL / AFP)
  • Firefighters try to extinguish a fire which broke out in a forest near Shoresh, outside of Jerusalem, August 3, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/FLASH90)
    Firefighters try to extinguish a fire which broke out in a forest near Shoresh, outside of Jerusalem, August 3, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/FLASH90)
  • Firefighters try to extinguish a fire which broke out in a forest near Shoresh, outside of Jerusalem, August 3, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/FLASH90)
    Firefighters try to extinguish a fire which broke out in a forest near Shoresh, outside of Jerusalem, August 3, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/FLASH90)
  • Firefighters try to extinguish a fire which broke out in a forest near Shoresh, outside of Jerusalem, August 3, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/FLASH90)
    Firefighters try to extinguish a fire which broke out in a forest near Shoresh, outside of Jerusalem, August 3, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/FLASH90)
  • Firefighters try to extinguish a fire which broke out in a forest near Shoresh, outside of Jerusalem, August 3, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/FLASH90)
    Firefighters try to extinguish a fire which broke out in a forest near Shoresh, outside of Jerusalem, August 3, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/FLASH90)
  • Firefighters try to extinguish a fire which broke out in a forest near Shoresh, outside of Jerusalem, August 3, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/FLASH90)
    Firefighters try to extinguish a fire which broke out in a forest near Shoresh, outside of Jerusalem, August 3, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/FLASH90)
  • Firefighters try to extinguish a fire which broke out in a forest near Shoresh, outside of Jerusalem, August 3, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/FLASH90)
    Firefighters try to extinguish a fire which broke out in a forest near Shoresh, outside of Jerusalem, August 3, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/FLASH90)
  • Firefighters try to extinguish a fire which broke out in a forest near Shoresh, outside of Jerusalem, August 3, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/FLASH90)
    Firefighters try to extinguish a fire which broke out in a forest near Shoresh, outside of Jerusalem, August 3, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/FLASH90)
  • Firefighters try to extinguish a fire which broke out in a forest near Shoresh, outside of Jerusalem, August 3, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/FLASH90)
    Firefighters try to extinguish a fire which broke out in a forest near Shoresh, outside of Jerusalem, August 3, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/FLASH90)
  • Firefighters try to extinguish a fire which broke out in a forest near Shoresh, outside of Jerusalem, August 3, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/FLASH90)
    Firefighters try to extinguish a fire which broke out in a forest near Shoresh, outside of Jerusalem, August 3, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/FLASH90)

A large brushfire broke out Tuesday on the outskirts of Jerusalem close to a number of residential homes, forcing the evacuation of dozens of families.

Despite the ongoing heatwave, the local fire chief said the blaze was likely started by people rather than the weather.

Six firefighting planes dumped retardant on the flames as 11 firefighter units worked to contain the blaze, which was approaching the community of Shoresh, about five kilometers west of Jerusalem.

Another 13 firefighting units from other parts of the country were drafted to assist in the emergency, Hebrew media reported.

The fire spread over an area of around 24 acres and came to within 350 meters of Shoresh.

Some 60 families were told to leave their homes, Fire and Rescue Services Jerusalem District Commander Nissim Twito told the Kan public broadcaster.

A nearby commercial center with a gas station was also cleared of people.

Though Israel has been experiencing searing summer heat, with temperatures in Jerusalem on Tuesday reaching 34° Celsius (93.2° Fahrenheit), Fire and Rescue Commissioner Dedi Simchi said that human action rather than the weather was likely to blame.

“It seems it was not the weather that started the fire, but there is no doubt it is accelerating it and making it bigger,” Simchi told Kan, noting there had been no reports of lightning during the day.

Firefighters try to extinguish a fire that broke out in a forest near Shoresh, outside of Jerusalem, August 3, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/FLASH90)

Simchi said the fire was apparently started by people but said it was not clear if it was deliberate or through negligence.

The fire also forced the closure of Route 1, the main highway connecting the capital to the coastal plain, between the Sha’ar Hagai and Hemed interchanges, for a number of hours.

In June several fires broke out in areas near Jerusalem, forcing the evacuation of homes, with authorities suspecting the blazes were deliberately set by West Bank Palestinians.

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