Firefighters gain control of Jerusalem region fires

Jerusalem-Tel Aviv highway reopens; 300 people evacuated from homes, four treated for smoke inhalation; police suspect arson

Firefighters teams seen fighting a forest fire in the outskirts of Jerusalem on Tuesday (Nati shohat /Flash90)
Firefighters teams seen fighting a forest fire in the outskirts of Jerusalem on Tuesday (Nati shohat /Flash90)

Firefighters gained control of two large fires that raged near Jerusalem Tuesday afternoon, possibly the result of arson. The fires, one near Motza and the other near Kibbutz Maale Hahamisha, resulted in four people lightly injured from smoke inhalation and the evacuation of up to 300 area homes.

Firefighting squads and emergency rescue crews from all over the country rallied to the area to battle the fires. Jerusalem police chief Niso Shaham said they were probably set deliberately. Several arrests were made over the past few weeks in a series of suspicious fires that caused damage in Jerusalem, he said.

While the Maale Hahamisha fire was quickly put out with the aid of as many as 35 firefighting teams and six aircraft, the Motza fire spread toward Mevaseret Zion, burning through 75 acres of woodlands and forcing the evacuation of a street that borders the forest. Firefighters gained the upper hand at roughly 5 p.m. but were to remain in the area overnight to make sure it did not reignite.

Traffic on Highway 1, the main artery between Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, was blocked off for roughly two hours, leading to congestion as far away as Ben Gurion Airport. Motorists were turned back and instructed to take alternative routes.

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Magen David Adom raised its alert level in response to the fires, and sent ambulances to the scenes of both blazes.

The Jerusalem region fires occurred days after State Comptroller Micha Lindenstrauss submitted a scathing report on the December 2010 Carmel forest fire. The report slammed all levels of government for failure to prepare for and deal with the fire, Israel’s worst, that led to the death of 44 people. It warned that insufficient measures had been taken to address the failures since then.

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