A blaze set by Palestinian protesters along the Gaza border devastated a nature reserve inside Israel on Saturday, in what officials said was the worst day of fires since the demonstrators adopted the fire kite tactics in the last few months.
Arson investigators at the Carmia reserve said the fire was most likely set by a fire kite, or possibly a balloon filled with chemicals that dripped flames along the area, Hadashot news reported.
By evening, teams of dozens of firefighters and aircraft finally managed to bring the flames under control, but not before some 2,000 to 3,000 dunams (500 to 740 acres) of fields and parts of a nature reserve adjacent to Kibbutz Carmia were destroyed.
In total, firefighters battled three large fires and several smaller ones along the Gaza Strip border, all believed to have been started by incendiary kites flown from the coastal enclave.
Officials at the Israel Nature and Parks Authority estimated that at least one third of the Carmia reserve had been destroyed.
They said it was likely the flames had caused massive damage to both the flora and the fauna in the reserve.
Residents worked alongside with firefighters and soldiers to try to contain the fires, which have become almost daily occurrences since the start of the “March of Return” protests along the border at the end of March.
During the protests, Gazans have flown hundreds of kites into Israel outfitted with Molotov cocktails and containers of burning fuel, setting fire to large swaths of land.
The arson has become a widely adopted tactic during the “March of Return” protests, which Israel accuses the Hamas terror group of orchestrating as a cover for attacks and attempts to breach the border fence.
Officials said that since the start of the protests the kites had set over 270 fires, destroying some 25,000 dunam (6,200 acres), or more than a third of all the land adjacent to the Strip.
Military planners have begun implementing new measures to combat the assaults, including options drawn from the IDF’s responses to rocket launches and other terror attacks.
The IDF was also using drones to try and take down the kites.
Col. Nadav Levaneh told Hadashot news that so far drones operated by the IDF had managed to bring down more than 500 kites.
Firefighters were also working to gain control of a blaze near Kibbutz Be’eri, which borders the central Gaza Strip.
Earlier Saturday, an additional fire broke out in fields belonging to Kibbutz Nir Am, also along the northern Gaza Strip.
On Thursday, firefighters battled similar brush fires between the Kissufim and Ein Hashlosha kibbutzim that authorities suspect were caused by firebomb-laden kites flown across the security fence by Palestinians.
Local residents told Israel Radio they were concerned that they would not be provided compensation for the damage, as the burden for proving they were victims of a terror attack fell on them.
The fires have caused tens of millions of shekels of damage.
Zionist Union MK Eitan Brosh told the radio that lawmakers from his party would tour the area Sunday and work to provide the residents with solutions to their ongoing distress.
חשד לטרור עפיפונים גם בשמורת כרמיה. שריפה גדולה מאוד: 12 צוותי כיבוי, 4 מטוסי כיבוי וגם סיוע של חיל האוויר בניסיון למנוע מהאש להתפשט לחממות של מושב נתיב העשרה. pic.twitter.com/VFJINN1rDQ
— matan tzuri מתן צורי (@MatanTzuri) June 2, 2018
The violent demonstrations were meant to end on May 15, but Hamas leaders have said they want them to continue.