Fire under control at Nataf; 10 homes consumed by flames at West Bank settlement

Fire under control at Nataf; 10 homes consumed by flames at West Bank settlement

Village in Jerusalem hills remains off limits, as fire teams turn focus to Halamish settlement, evacuate all residents

Fire fighters try to extinguish a wildfire which broke out at the entrance to Nataf, in the Jerusalem hills, on November 25, 2016. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)


Firefighters succeeded Friday night in keeping the worst of the flames from the community of Nataf in the Jerusalem hills, but residents were told to stay away for fear of another outbreak of fire. As Fridaty night turned into Saturday, fire teams switched some of their focus to the West Bank settlement of Halamish, where 10 homes were engulfed by flames soon after all residents were evacuated.

 

Nataf’s residents were evacuated on Friday afternoon — for the third time in four days — as a massive wildfire in the area threatened the homes there. A wave of forest and brush fires have cut a swath of destruction across Israel since Tuesday, and in several places entered residential areas.

The access road to Nataf was closed until Saturday morning, due to fears that a change in direction of strong winds could rekindle the fire, Channel 2 reported.

Some 150 firefighters were still at Nataf overnight Friday-Saturday, with officials saying there was still a risk to homes in the north-western part of the community.

Twelve firefighting teams were also still putting out flames at the entry to nearby Ma’ale Hahamisha.

Nataf’s renowned Rama’s Kitchen was totally destroyed in the fire Friday, as was part of the owner’s home. Other homes were also in the line of the flames.

Rama Ben Zvi interviewed by Channel 10 on Friday, November 25, 2016, after the restaurant she owns, Rama's Kitchen, was destroyed by a fire. (Channel 10)

Rama Ben Zvi interviewed by Channel 10 on Friday, November 25, 2016, after the restaurant she owns, Rama’s Kitchen, was destroyed by a fire. (Channel 10)

The popular restaurant was hosting a wedding celebration when emergency personnel ordered guests to evacuate at around 3 p.m. Friday. The owners had posted images on Thursday on Facebook when a previous blaze came close to the establishment, and thanked the many people who had expressed concern for their well-being.

The fire threatening Nataf and the West Bank settlement of Mevo Horon began earlier Friday in the Ma’ale Hahasmisha area of the Jerusalem hills. Multiple teams of firefighters were deployed to the area. At least 20 planes were operating there, dousing the flames from the skies.

Another blaze broke out after midnight on Saturday in a five-story apartment block in the West Bank settlement of Maale Adumim, trapping dozens of residents. 

In Nataf, emergency teams went door to door, ensuring residents had all left the community.

Initial suspicions are reportedly that the blaze was started by a petrol bomb thrown from the nearby Palestinian village of Katana. These reports have not been confirmed.

The massive wildfire spread as far as Mevo Horon on Friday evening, threatening to engulf homes and an industrial park and sending Israel’s already stretched firefighters scrambling to douse the flames.

Channel 2 News reported Friday evening that the firefighters were working primarily to stop the fire spreading further, and expected to continue throughout the night as strong winds threatened to push the flames outwards.

In the central West Bank settlement of Halamish, some 20 km from Mevo Horon, residents were also forced to evacuate Friday night as flames from a fire that broke out in the area approached and then engulfed some of their homes.

Firefighting planes try to extinguish a wildfire which broke out at the entrance to Nataf, in the Jerusalem hills, on November 25, 2016. (Photo by Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Firefighting planes try to extinguish a wildfire which broke out at the entrance to Nataf, in the Jerusalem hills, on November 25, 2016. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

At least 10 homes in Halamish were engulfed by flames, Walla reported, and one woman was lightly injured.

Sixteen fire teams were at the scene in the early hours of Saturday morning.

A massive blaze in the Jerusalem hills overnight Thursday-Friday had devastated at least 10 homes and threatened to destroy the small village of Beit Meir.

Fire fighters try to extinguish a blaze at Nataf, outside Jerusalem, on November 25, 2016. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Fire fighters try to extinguish a blaze at Nataf, outside Jerusalem, on November 25, 2016. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

At Dvira Forest in southern Israel, firefighters from Beersheba brought a fresh blaze under control Friday evening.

Another fire broke out in the Binyamina region of central Israel on Friday. Two teams of firefighters soon brought the blaze under control, Walla reported.

Early Friday, the village of Kaabiya in the Galilee saw flames from a nearby forest reach the edges of the community. Police evacuated five families, but said the move was a precaution, as firefighters expected to contain the blaze.

Another fire was reported early Friday between the Galilee Arab towns of Kabul and Tamra. There were no immediate reports of injuries or damage.

An Israeli artist stands in his studio, burned in an overnight fire in Beit Meir, outside of Jerusalem on November 25, 2016. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

An Israeli artist stands in his studio, burned in an overnight fire in Beit Meir, outside of Jerusalem on November 25, 2016. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

There were many blazes in other parts of the country Thursday and throughout the night. In the evening, a fire broke out near Shuafat in East Jerusalem and two houses were evacuated. One firefighter was lightly injured near Sha’ar Hagai, close to the Jerusalem-Tel Aviv Route 1 highway.

No one has been killed in the fires, but hundreds have been injured, dozens of homes burned and, in Haifa, tens of thousands were evacuated and hundreds of residences were damaged.

More than a dozen suspects have been arrested on suspicion of sparking at least some of the hundreds of fires that have threatened Israeli towns and forests. Among the suspects are several whom the Shin Bet domestic security service and police believe are responsible for starting some of the devastating fires that ripped through Haifa on Thursday.

Israeli firefighters help extinguish a fire in the northern city of Haifa on November 24, 2016. (Jack Guez/AFP)

Israeli firefighters help extinguish a fire in the northern city of Haifa on November 24, 2016. (Jack Guez/AFP)

Investigators have said a large portion of the blazes, as many as half by some accounts, have clearly been caused by accidents and/or the exceptionally dry and windy weather of the last few days, while some indicate arson, and still others are under investigation.

Police Commissioner Roni Alsheich established a special investigative unit on Thursday to determine the cause of the fires and help locate arsonists. Earlier Thursday, he acknowledged arson “in some cases… presumably out of nationalistic motives.

The timesofisrael

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