J'lem: Arson may be cause of forest fire near Yad Vashem
By MELANIE LIDMAN
Fire started from 4 different spots at once; Five firefighters, three others treated for smoke inhalation; roads around Har Herzl and Yafe Nof closed.
Arson may be the cause of the largest forest fire in Jerusalem in the past year, fire fighters said on Sunday afternoon as a fire raged in the Jerusalem forest below the Yad Vashem Holocaust Museum. Firefighters are expected to have control of the fire by 8:00 pm, said Jerusalem Fire and Rescue Services spokesman Asaf Abras. The fire had already burned dozens of dunams.
Five firefighters and three other people at Yad Vashem were treated for smoke inhalation by Magen David Adom and four were evacuated to area hospitals. There were no other injuries and no residents were evacuated from their homes. Residents of Beit HaKerem and Har Nof were asked to stay inside their homes with the windows closed or avoid the area altogether.
Police closed all roads around Har Herzl and Yafe Nof due to the risk of smoke inhalation starting at 4:30 p.m.
Jerusalem Police chief Nisso Shaham said that the fire would be allowed to burn out in the wadi and the fire and police would concentrate their efforts on protecting the neighborhoods. Twenty three fire fighting crews from Beit Shemesh, Ramle, and an officer’s training course from Rishon Lezion were involved in containing the fire. The fire was approximately the same size as a blaze last summer near Hadassah Ein Kerem and Bar Giora.
The fire broke out simultaneously in four different spots in the Jerusalem forest at approximately 3:30 p.m. Abras said firefighters would investigate the cause of the conflagration over the coming days, adding that the fact that the fire started from four different areas at once “raised a lot of questions”
One fire reached the western edge of the Yad Vashem campus, which is hundreds of meters from the museum building but close to the educational center. The musuem was able to use their own fire extinguishing equipment before the fire entered the campus.
“We’ve improved our procedures, and after the Carmel fire we purchased a lot of equipment,” said Avner Shalev, outside of the museum, where fire, police, emergency services, and the army had set up a command center. Three Yad Vashem workers were treated for smoke inhalation, and hundreds of visitors were evacuated from the campus.
“We stopped the fire, it’s a fact,” said Shalev. He said that after today the museum would add an additional pipeline of water defense. He added that the Yad Vashem employees were ready to start emergency evacuation of the most important artifacts from the museum but they quickly realized it would not be necessary.
The most dramatic moments of the day came from the Tzippori Center, an ecological learning center in the middle of the forest, which runs a day camp and had more than 700 people on the campus the afternoon of the blaze. Buses were sent to evacuate the children at day camp to placate worried parents, but there was never any immediate need to evacuate the visitors at the center.
Abras said that a few private cars were burned near the center but there were no injuries.
Fire and Rescue Services had flagged the forest outside of Yad Vashem as a major “area of concern” for forest fires, and had planned to run a large drill starting next week, coordinated with police and emergency services, simulating a large forest fire approaching Yad Vashem. “We’re all kind of laughing to ourselves, because there’s no drill, we got it in real time,” said Abras.
He added that after the Carmel fire in December, the coordination between firefighters, police, and army had improved. The most important lesson learned from the Carmel fire was to send in five or six crews initially, rather than waiting for the first crew to report back, something that was instrumental in containing the fire on Sunday.
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