Lag b’Omer bonfires burn out of control in Israel

JERUSALEM (JTA) — Bonfires lit throughout Israel to mark Lag b’Omer burned out of control, stranding thousands of celebrants in the northern Israeli town of Meron.

Hot, dry and windy conditions in Israel contributed to several fires around the country that burned out of control. Eleven people were injured at Maasiyahu Prison in central Israel, where former Israeli president Moshe Katsav is incarcerated, after a fire broke out in its wood factory. Officials had begun to take steps to evacuate the prison before getting the blaze under control.

A large fire broke out at Moshav Kfar Uria near Beit Shemesh, causing the evacuation of 200 people from their homes and damaging about 500 acres of forest. Several serious fires also burned out of control in the Jerusalem area after Lag b’Omer bonfires were not properly extinguished.

Fires also burned out of control in Netanya and Rosh Haayin in central Israel.

Meanwhile, thousands of people remained stranded Sunday in Meron, after the annual Lag b’Omer celebrations at the gravesite of Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai. Due to overcrowded conditions, buses had difficulty reaching the site to take home celebrants waiting in hot, dry conditions with limited water supplies. There were reports of hundreds of people fainting, severe dehydration, and heat exhaustion. Some 200,000 people reportedly visited Meron during the one-day holiday that began on Saturday night.

Fires for Lag b’Omer also were scheduled for Sunday night, after the Rabbinate advised followers to refrain from lighting bonfires on Saturday night so as to avoid the possibility that celebrants would violate the Sabbath by lighting their Saturday fires early.

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