New brush fires continued to rage today as Israel started the week with guarded hopefulness that its battle with wildfires and suspected arson attacks across the country would peter out.
Since Tuesday last week, wildfires have taken their toll on the country, leaving a trail of dozens suffering fire-related injuries, hundreds of burned homes, scorched national parks, and utter disbelief that pyroterrorism might have become a thing.
Over the course of five days, 630 fires have been recorded across the country, injuring more than 180 people and damaging 560 homes.
Some 2,000 firefighters and 450 soldiers from the Home Front Command have been working around the clock to extinguish the flames using 1.5 million tons of fire-retardant materials as of Saturday night. About 32,000 acres of natural forests and brush have been burned and innumerable wildlife killed.
Unofficial estimates put the damages caused by the blazes at some NIS 2 billion, the costliest in the country’s history.
Reports show the first fires last Tuesday were natural brushfires sparked by dry conditions. From Wednesday, arsonists reportedly fanned the flames with pyroterrorism attacks.
Israel put out a call for international help and its neighbors responded quickly.
Egypt and Jordan sent firefighting crews, as did the Palestinian Authority. Israel also got help from Greece, Cyprus, Turkey, Croatia, Italy, Russia, Spain, Canada and the United States.
The weekly cabinet meeting was relocated to Haifa today, where ministers were taken on tours of neighborhoods affected by the fires. Between 60,000 and 75,000 city residents were evacuated on Thursday while firefighters battled blazes in 13 neighborhoods. Reports show that 530 apartments in Haifa, Israel’s third-largest city, have been completely destroyed by the flames.
The village of Nataf, in the Judean Mountains, also suffered major damage. Rama’s Kitchen, a famous restaurant in the Jerusalem hills, went up in flames after reports that a Molotov cocktail was thrown into the village.
“We tried to stop it, but there was no chance of that. There were fire trucks and firefighters with a water hose, but the flames were 20 meters high. What burned down here was something that was precious to all of us, and we’re still trying to process everything. I can’t really tell you what I’m feeling right now,” Tomer Niv, the restaurant’s chef of eight years, told reporters.
While apprehension continues from North to South, a silver lining can be seen through the grayness as Jews, Christians, Muslims, Bedouins and Druze unite to help one another through this difficult time.
Israelis are known for caring in times of need and this was no exception.
“We call on all to show a spirit of responsibility and work to overcome this crisis with minimum losses and to uphold the values of coexistence and rejection of racism and hatred,” Rajah Zaatreh, a member of the Hadash Political Bureau, told i24news.
There have been reports of Bedouins in the Negev offering temporary shelter to anyone in need. Muslim and Christian communities, as well as Druze villages, in the Galilee and northern areas of the country opened their private homes and guest houses.
Individuals from across the country also turned to social media to offer hospitality to families evacuated by the fires.
Airbnb took part in helping Israelis find shelter by waiving service fees and enabling hosts to list for free from November 23 through December 3, 2016. Close to 200 Israeli Airbnb users volunteered to accommodate evacuees free of charge.
The KKL-JNF Field and Forest Center in Nes Harim, located in the Jerusalem hills, opened its doors to families and residents who were evacuated from their homes.
According to KKL-JNF World Chairman Danny Atar, “as part of our commitment to the Jewish people and to the citizens of Israel, we are providing, immediately and with no time limit, living units for families who were forced to evacuate their homes due to fire.”
National organizations – including the Kibbutz Movement, the Zionist Union Party, the Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel (SPNI) and youth movements – set up call centers and command posts to help evacuees find places to stay.
Neighborhood clothing drives set into motion quickly, collecting blankets, clothes, toys and food for those who lost everything in the fires.
The Mamanet national cachibol league network of mothers put out a call for household items and warm clothing for fire victims.
ImaKadima, a non-profit organization that supports, educates and advocates for the wide spectrum of career-minded mothers in Israel, organized volunteers to go to Haifa and lead workshops for children affected by the fires.
Habanot Hashavot, a group of volunteer women, came to the rescue for a kindergarten teacher and her charges in Haifa. Their building was scorched. It took the volunteers less than 24 hours to restock everything needed for the daycare facility.
Schools around the country hosted children from Haifa in their classrooms on Friday and Sunday.
— Israel Foreign Min. (@IsraelMFA) November 26, 2016
Israel’s windsurfing champion Yoav Omer, who won the RS:X Youth World Windsurfing Championships for a second straight year in Cyprus on Saturday, dedicated his win to the victims of the fires.
Air Supply, the Australian soft rock duo, postponed its concert in Haifa from Friday to tonight due to the fires. The band said it would donate 200 tickets to the wives of Israeli firefighters.
While officials said it appears that the worst is over, cautious optimism continues in Israel today. Weather forecasters are predicting much needed rain mid-week and everyone is hoping they’re right.