Thousands flee Israeli town amid fire rage

In 2010, 42 people died in a fire on Mount Carmel, just south of Haifa.

Tens of thousands of people are being evacuated from their homes as wildfires rage through parts of the Israeli city of Haifa.

Huge flames are being fanned by hot, dry winds in residential areas in the north of the city of about 250,000 people.

Fires are also threatening homes near Jerusalem and in the West Bank.

A minister has said that half of the fires were “apparently arson”, but police have not confirmed that any had been started deliberately.

Hundreds of military reservists have been called up to help battle the three-day outbreak of fires.

No deaths or serious injuries have been reported, though the national ambulance service said 55 people had been treated for smoke inhalation, 36 of whom had been taken to hospital.

Many leave city
Haifa municipality spokeswoman, Or Doron said that 50,000 of the city’s residents had left their homes.

People loaded up supermarket trolleys with belongings, while schools, kindergartens, universities and an old people’s hospital were evacuated.

Haifa Mayor, Yonah Yahav said there were indications that one of the fires started when “someone tossed a cigarette in an area full of oil and flammable fluids” in an industrial zone.

Further south, Highway 443, which links Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, crossing through the West Bank, was closed to morning traffic on Thursday as another blaze reached the city of Modi’in.

Police said homes and cars were damaged and 300 students were evacuated from a school, in Talmon, an Israel settlement in the occupied West Bank.

Fire-fighters have been battling fires in several locations since Tuesday, and forecasters are warning that the dry conditions and strong winds are likely to continue until early next week.

Several countries, including Cyprus, Russia, Italy, Croatia and Greece, have sent help and equipment, including aircraft, to help tackle the blazes.

Four Palestinians have been arrested and are due to appear in court on suspicion of starting a bonfire negligently.

“Almost 50% of the fires are apparently arson,” Internal Security Minister Gilad Erdan told Army Radio.

Education Minister, Naftali Bennett, the leader of the Jewish Home party, said on Twitter in Hebrew: “Only those to whom the country does not belong are capable of burning it.”

Meanwhile, the Arabic-language hashtag #Israel_on_fire began trending, with the majority of tweets expressing pleasure over the outbreak.

BBC/Sammie