Tens of thousands evacuate Haifa as wildfires burn across Israel


JERUSALEM (JTA) — Tens of thousands were told to evacuate their homes and businesses in northern Israel as wildfires continue to burn throughout the country.

Thursday was the third day that wildfires blazed unchecked in areas throughout Israel. The fires were fanned by dry conditions and high winds.

The fires burned homes and businesses in Haifa, and residents of at least 11 neighborhoods were told to evacuate.

Fires near Jerusalem also briefly closed Route 443, a main highway between Jerusalem and Tel Aviv.  On Tuesday and Wednesday, fires led to the evacuation of thousands from Zichron Yaakov, located at the southern tip of the Carmel Forest in northern Israel, destroying several homes.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, on Thursday spoke by telephone with Russian President Vladimir Putin in order to request assistance in extinguishing the fires. The Prime Minister’s Office in a statement said that Russia offered to immediately send two Beriev be-200 firefighting aircraft capable of carrying more fire-retardant material. On Thursday morning, firefighting airplanes and crews from Greece and Cyprus arrived in Israel.

Police are investigating whether some of the fires are a result of arson. Some arrests have been made in connection with some of the fires, according to police.

High levels of pollution have been measured in the areas near the fires.

High winds are expected throughout Israel throughout Thursday with dry conditions continuing.

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