Massive Fires Near Jerusalem

Huge wildfires flared up near Jerusalem on Sunday afternoon, prompting Pastor Chad Holland of the King of Kings Community Jerusalem to ask for prayers after members of their fellowship contacted the church about flames very close to their homes.

More than 10,000 people were evacuated from six towns west of the city: Beit Meir, Ksalon, Ramat Raziel, Shoresh, Sho’eva and Givat Ye’arim. Firefighting efforts enabled residents of Sho’eva and Shoresh to return home during the night, many more were able to do the same on Monday morning.

However, hundreds are still displaced and the authorities are acutely aware that the fires could flare up again in the hot, dry conditions currently dominating the whole region.

One member of the 70 teams of firefighters deployed sustained the only reported injury, but a couple of patients of the Eitanim psychiatric hospital gave concern for a while, having gone missing. They have both been found safe and well.

The fire is reported to have burned an area of around 6.5 square miles, at least four times larger than those affected by other fires in recent years.

On Monday, Israel’s Environment and Health Ministries warned Israelis about high levels of air pollution in several areas on the outskirts of Jerusalem. A huge pall of smoke has floated over the city at times and hiking trails in the area have been closed until further notice.

A Fire Department spokesman said on Sunday night that the fire was caused by people rather than just the weather conditions, but it was still unclear whether that was deliberate or accidental. Detailed investigations will begin once the fire is completely under control.

UPDATE – Tuesday 17th August

On Monday, the winds picked up and caused the fires to spring back up, causing major problems and prompting Israel’s government to request foreign assistance. Once again hundreds of people were forced to evacuate their homes and many others were affected by clouds of smoke billowing over Jerusalem.

Greek Foreign Minister Nikos Dendias agreed to help out even while Greece continues battling its own wildfires – including two new ones that broke out on Monday near Athens.

By Tuesday morning the fires near Jerusalem were mostly under control, but firefighters were racing to extinguish them completely before winds were forecast to strengthen again in the afternoon.

Here is i24 News` latest video report: