Firefighters managed to contain by Saturday the wildfires that had raged throughout Israel the previous days. Some 3,500 people were evacuated from towns and dozens of homes were destroyed during the heights of the blazes on Thursday as brushfires raged nationwide, with more than 500 acres of woodland burned. International help from Greece, Croatia, Italy, Egypt and Cyprus arrived to help battle the blazes, while Russia and the Palestinian Authority also offered support.
In the village of Mevo Modi’im, founded by musician Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach, 40 of the 50 homes burned down. Nearby Kibbutz Harel was also particularly hard hit. Residents in the affected areas were finally permitted to return home on Friday.
Firefighters also battled a new blaze that broke out on Friday in the northern Jordan Valley, which also spread across the border into Jordan, but eventually managed to contain that one as well. Highway 90 was closed to traffic as firefighters worked to control the flames.
Israel saw a dramatic spike in temperatures on Thursday across the country, as wildfires had already started by Wednesday evening following the Lag Ba’omer holiday, during which bonfires are customarily lit. By Thursday afternoon, Tel Aviv and the northern city of Haifa both saw some 40 degrees Celsius. In the southern city of Be’er Sheva, temperatures rose to 44 degrees, while the Dead Sea region experienced 48 degrees.
Ben Shemen forest was lit aflame, requiring a large task force comprising firefighters, the army and police attempting to quell the fire.
Residents of Ben Shemen, Gimzo and Pisgat Ze’ev and personnel at Mitkan Adam IDF base, all of which are in the Modi’in area, were all evacuated, as well. Tarum, which lay slightly northward, was also evacuated. Smaller fires were likewise reported in Betar Illit, Rosh Ha’ayin, Nahal Oz, Rahat, Be’eri, and Sha’ar Hanegev. An electrical fault was considered the reason for at least one of the fires, although arson was not yet ruled out.
While Public Security Minister Erdan said arson was not suspected, a series of simultaneous fires in the Gaza region over the weekend was blamed on balloon-borne incendiary devices being sent over the border. Erdan and Netanyahu were briefed on Friday on the status of the wildfires at the emergency and rescue forces headquarters in Tel Hadid.
Deputy Commander of the Fire Extinguisher Squadron Nir Rosenthal and senior officials from the NSC, the Defense Ministry, the Israel Nature and National Parks Protection Authority, KKL-JNF, the Home Front Command and the Meteorological Service attended the briefing.
On Friday, 17 May 2019, settlers torched unfarmed fields in Burin and ‘Asirah al-Qibliyah. In both villages the settlers threw stones at the residents’ homes. In ‘Asirah al-Qibliyah, where the area is controlled by military watchtowers, a settler even fired shots in the air. Soldiers nearby did not arrest the attackers and prevented the Palestinians from approaching their burning land:
Incidentally, other fires sparked during the heat wave, although not necessarily related to the wildfires. A school in Ganei Tikva was reportedly in flames on Friday. On Saturday, a toddler was killed and 14 others injured when a fire broke out in an apartment building in Safed, including the four-year-old brother of the toddler.