Israeli firefighters battle blaze near Jerusalem for third day

Rescue Service says 110 firefighting teams accompanied by eight aircraft working to combat the raging wildfire.

A plane disperses fire retardant as it assists in extinguishing a fire on the outskirts of Jerusalem [Ammar Awad/Reuters]

Israeli firefighters are working for a third consecutive day to contain a wildfire that has consumed a large swath of forest west of Jerusalem and threatened several communities.

Israel Fire and Rescue Service said on Tuesday that 110 firefighting teams accompanied by eight aircraft are battling the blaze that consumed about 20sq km (7.7 square miles) of land – making it one of the largest wildfires in the country’s history.

On Monday, Israel asked regional ally Greece for assistance in fighting the fire, and Foreign Minister Yair Lapid said he was also reaching out to Cyprus, Italy and France for possible assistance.

Foreign ministry spokesman Lior Haiat said Greece and Cyprus had agreed to send firefighting planes to Israel.

“The Greek foreign minister already said he will help as much as possible,” Lapid wrote on Twitter.

Hot, dry weather and short winters in recent years have left the wooded hills near Jerusalem especially prone to wildfires. The blaze that began Sunday has cloaked Jerusalem in a pall of thick black smoke.

Fire and Rescue chief Dedi Simchi said investigators were still working to determine the cause of the fire.

“The fire broke out as a result of human activity,” he told reporters. “If it was neglect, if it was recklessness, if it was intentional, if it was arson, we don’t know.”

The environmental protection and health ministries warned of “very high levels of air pollution” in several places near Jerusalem. Children and pregnant women were urged not to go outdoors if possible.

The fires broke on Sunday, sending acrid-smelling clouds of smoke over the holy city and its iconic Dome of the Rock, and forcing the evacuation of a psychiatric hospital.

Firefighters managed to contain the blaze before strong winds sent flames racing through woodland. Police drove through communities in the fire’s path, using loudspeakers to urge residents to leave their homes.

Simchi told reporters the fires were similar in scale to outbreaks in northern Israel in 2010, at the time the largest in the country’s history. Those fires burned 24,000 dunams (2,400 hectares) of land.

Israel and other countries bordering the Mediterranean Sea have had a searing summer with deadly wildfires in Algeria, Cyprus, Greece, and Turkey.

Algeria was the hardest hit with at least 90 people killed in wildfires last week. Morocco and Tunisia have also been affected.

Smoke rises from a wildfire near Givat Yearim on the outskirts of Jerusalem [Ammar Awad/Reuters]
Source: News Agencies