Videos: Israel Seeks Help Fighting Huge Blaze Raging in Hills Above Jerusalem
Record-setting wildfires have broken out across the planet in 2021, from California to Turkey and from Greece to Siberia, raising concerns about how a warming global climate could make fires larger and more common, but also about how humans use the land in areas prone to wildfires.
A powerful new wildfire in the hills to the west of Jerusalem has the Israeli government looking for international help to fight the blaze. Just last week, Israel sent its own firefighters to help Greece tame a wave of fires.
On Monday, Israeli Foreign Minister Yair Lapid appealed to his counterparts in Greece, Cyprus, Italy, France, and other countries in the region for help against the fire that began on Sunday near Beit Meir, about nine miles west of Jerusalem.
Although just two days old, the fire is already poised to become the country’s worst-ever, having consumed 80% as much as the 2010 Mount Carmel fire near Haifa that destroyed roughly 6,200 acres of land.
Photos and videos posted on social media captured the towering flames as they consumed the land’s legendary pine trees and the billowing smoke blotted out the sun over Jerusalem.
On Monday afternoon, Israeli officials began evacuating the residents of Shoeva, Kibbutz Tzuba and Kiryat Yearim, Ein Nakuba, Shoresh, Har Etan, and the Eitanim psychiatric hospital, according to Haaretz.
“Tomorrow, 88 firefighting teams will continue to fight this fire,” Fire and Rescue Commissioner Dedi Simchi told reporters on Monday night. “I hope and believe we’ll finish this tomorrow.”
Simchi said the fires “were a human act,” noting there had not been any lightning strikes in the country on Sunday. “We don’t know yet if it was arson or negligence. We’ll investigate.”
No deaths have been reported as of yet, but one firefighter was injured. In the 2010 Mount Carmel blaze, 44 people were killed.
“The climate crisis will make such events more frequent and powerful, and Israel is particularly sensitive to drought and warming,” Environmental Protection Minister Tamar Zandberg said on Monday during a visit to the front lines. “Climate disasters must be declared a strategic threat, and prepared for accordingly.”
The Defense Ministry told the Times of Israel on Monday that it was looking to rent six aircraft from private aviation company Chim-Nir “to expand our aerial firefighting capability.” They will join another 10 firefighting aircraft already in service in the area.
According to the Times of Israel, Prime MInister Naftali Bennett was motivated to seek international help after the fire breached a defensive line on its eastern side and firefighters were forced to regroup and establish a new line at Ora and Aminadav, two neighborhoods that abut the municipal borders of Jerusalem itself, which Israel claims as its capital.