Fire-fighters battle wildfires across Israel

Dozens of homes were destroyed in wildfires across Israel on Thursday and thousands of people were evacuated to safety.

Fire services said last night that they had reduced fires at the two main flashpoints, the Ben Shemen Forest and the area of Kibbutz Harel near Beit Shemesh. Dozens of houses in the area sustained damage or were destroyed entirely. No one was injured.

The highway between Tel Aviv and Jerusalem was temporary closed as a precaution yesterday as the fires spread through small towns along one of the busiest roads in Israel.

Firefighters also battled brushfires along the Gaza border, as well as near Ben-Gurion International Airport. The village of Mevo Modi’im, a community founded by the late song-writer Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach, was nearly destroyed.

Palestinian media reported that the ‘Sons of Zoari’ terrorist group launched hundreds of arson balloons into southern Israel from Gaza throughout Thursday. Local fire services said at least two fires in the Eshkol region of southern Israel were ignited by these balloons.

Officials fear more attempts to start fires in the Gaza border region today and authorities were reportedly considering declaring a national emergency because temperatures are expected to hit 43º C in parts of southern Israel.

Italy, Croatia, Greece and Cyprus are preparing to send fire-fighting planes to Israel, although the national fire-fighting services denied a report that Egypt would send two aircraft. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said the National Security Council, Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Ministry of Public Security have been instructed to reach out “immediately” for assistance.

Israel has suffered from massive wildfires before. In 2010 a fire burned for four days on northern Israel’s Mount Carmel, claiming 44 lives and destroying 12,000 acres of farmland.