Prime Minister Yair Lapid reviewed Israel’s preparedness for massive wildfires in a meeting Wednesday in Tel Aviv, his office announced. Public Security Minister Omer Barlev also participated in the meeting.
Lapid was briefed by the Public Security Ministry, Fire and Rescue Department and Israel Police. They reviewed preparations made for the 2022 fire season, which include the clearing of underbrush and other overgrown flora that could fuel brush fires.
They also discussed the multi-year plan passed in February that seeks to coordinate between various government agencies to better prepare for, and respond to, fires.
Efforts include the creation of buffer zones around high-risk residential areas and public institutions to reduce the risk of fires reaching them and to streamline response times. In addition, the plan seeks to better integrate the Israeli Air Force into national firefighting efforts.
“I call upon the citizens of Israel, especially during the summer and school vacations, to refrain from lighting fires in forests, parks and open spaces. Be alert to fires starting and situations that have a high risk of a fire starting and report them immediately.” Lapid said in a statement.
“Public responsibility and solidarity are a critical component in our ability to prevent and deal with massive wildfires,” he added.
Lapid is expected to attend a firefighting drill in the near future, the statement said.
Israel experiences a wave of massive wildfires every few years, with especially large ones in 1989, 1995, 2010, 2016, 2019 and 2021. Some of those blazes are suspected to have been sparked by arson or negligence. Israel has already faced a number of fires this year.
In June, fires broke out in open areas near communities northwest of Jerusalem. The cause was unknown, and no injuries or damage were reported.
At the beginning of July, a fire with an unknown cause broke out near the Lebanon border, causing the closure of a nearby road due to heavy smoke. The fire did not cause any damage.
Later in the month, a fire blazed near the central city of Modiin, where it threatened the neighboring Neot Kedumim nature reserve, home to the Biblical Landscape Reserve. No property was damaged and there were no reported casualties.
A fire also broke out in the Golan Heights in late July, prompting the evacuation of Kfar Haruv, a town located near the border with Jordan. Residents were eventually allowed to return to their homes and no injuries were reported.
Climate models show that wildfires are becoming more frequent and more fast-spreading, in part due to climate change bringing rising temperatures and a longer summer dry season.
A 2017 government report recommended establishing a single supervisory body to oversee a coordinated nationwide effort to implement fire prevention measures in all Israel’s forests, irrespective of who owns or manages them.
Sue Surkes contributed to this report.