As Israel heads into Shabbat, dozens of fires continue to burn across the country from the Galilee to Kiryat Gat, including one that threatens the Tel Aviv-Jerusalem Highway. As of now, no one has been killed due to the fires, but hundreds have been injured –but few seriously. Dozens of homes have been destroyed. Dry conditions and strong winds continue to exacerbate the situation.
Early Friday morning, 10 homes were destroyed in Beit Meir, a village near Abu Gush about 6 miles from Jerusalem. The village’s residents were evacuated Thursday night.
Firefighters have gained control of most of the fires in and around Haifa. A reduced firefighting force and two IDF Home Front battalions will continue to work in the Haifa area to fully extinguish the flames and prevent new flare-ups. Authorities are working non-stop to evaluate building safety and permit residents to return to their homes by Shabbat if possible. Some of the 75,000 evacuated residents have already returned to their homes. Federation partners estimate that 760 apartments in 37 buildings in Haifa were damaged including a number of schools and public institutions. Many of the newly homeless Haifa residents are elderly and Holocaust survivors.
As of now, Police have arrested 13 individuals suspected of arson. Two are suspected of starting the fire near Beit Meir. Six of them are suspected of starting the fires in and around Haifa. Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan said that at least half of the fires across Israel were started deliberately. Investigators warned against jumping to conclusions about all of the fires, however, as many may have been caused by accidents and the weather.
Israelis from all segments of society have opened their hearts to assist one another. Organizations from the Kibbutz Movement to Bnei Akiva and the Islamic Movement have organized to help those affected find food and shelter.
Reserves and Firefighting Assistance from Around the World
Two IDF Home Front Command battalions including reservists were mobilized to assist civilian fire fighters and police to combat the flames and evacuate residents. The IDF cancelled weekend leave for hundreds of combat soldiers to make them available to help with the situation.
The Palestinian Authority sent dozens of firefighters and eight firefighting vehicles to help combat the fires. Three firefighting aircraft from Greece and one from Cyprus began working on Thursday. More planes arrived from Turkey, Croatia, Italy and Russia early Friday morning and will begin working throughout the day. The American ‘Supertanker,’ the largest firefighting aircraft in the world and the only one that can operate at night, is expected to arrive by midnight on Friday. France, Spain and Portugal are also expected to send planes to Israel on Friday.
Cabinet ministers held an emergency meeting on Thursday night and are expected to hold another on Sunday morning.
Finance Minister Kahlon said that there are currently no budgetary obstacles to responding to the crisis and that the government will cover the costs of property damages. Kahlon promised that appraisers from the Tax Authority will begin to assess damage on Sunday. The ongoing terror investigation will have significant implications for the speed, source and nature of damage compensation.
Infrastructure Returning to Normal
Fires momentarily shut down parts of major highways Route 1 and Route 6 on Friday morning, though both are currently operating as normal. Most roads in the Haifa area have reopened. Train service to Haifa and on the Tel Aviv-Kiryat Gat-Be’er Sheva line has been renewed.
Updates from Federation Partners
Israel Trauma Coalition
A more complete and accurate assessment will not be available until Sunday and depends on the progress of the firefighting.As of now, only incomplete information for Haifa is available: Psychological trauma centers are operating in a number of area hospitals, though report few visitors.Calls to the trauma hotline have risen by 20%. 100 volunteers are sleeping in Haifa to help residents who are returning to their homes
2 Absorption centers were readied for emergency evacuation, but thankfully they were not called on to leave in the end. At the request of the Ministry of Immigration Absorption, the Jewish Agency found temporary housing solutions for 6 evacuees from a damaged old-age home. The Agency organized apartments, bedding and food through Shabbat.
Opened a 24-hour hotline for people with disabilities coping with the disaster