Fueled by high temperature heat waves, over 1,000 fires were put out in Israel in the past week. Possible causes currently being investigated include electrical negligence and arson, in addition to the local bonfire holiday, and the dry Mediterranean climate.
The wave began with Lag B’Omer, Israel’s “fire holiday” where locals often light bonfires. Despite official precautions and warnings against it, many locals chose to spark bonfires anyway. Over the next few days, 1,700 forest fires broke out in various locations across the country, though Mevo Modi’im, Kibbutz Harel, and the Ben Shemen forest sustained the most damage. Thousands were evacuated from their homes, 30 people were lightly injured, 50 homes were burnt to the ground, and about 15,000 dunams, or just less than 4,000 acres, were destroyed.
Using Israel’s 12 firefighting planes, 300 local volunteers, and with the help of Cyprus, Greece, Egypt, Italy and Croatia, who sent nine planes in total, it took over 1,500 firefighters just about 40 hours to ensure all the fires were put out.
While the natural inclination is to assume that locally lit fires and dry climates were the cause, other speculations arose when faulty powerlines were spotted along the borders of Gaza, which could display electrical negligence from the Israel Electric Corporation. Additionally, three suspects were arrested who were thought to have started fires on Jerusalem’s holy Mount Scopus. Suspects are being held on individual claims, and didn’t operate in a collective operation.
Despite the deep traumas that hundreds of people are suffering due to loss of home, or high levels of stress or injury, communities across the board are coming together in uplifting manners in order to rebuild.