Israel In Flames: Suspects Detained For Arson; 60,000 Evacuated From Haifa

The fires that have burned across Israel since Tuesday continue to rage, with new areas threatened by flames as other blazes have come under control.

The Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) and Israel Police announced Thursday afternoon that they have detained a number of suspects on suspicion of arson.

Channel 2 reported that some 60,000 residents have been evacuated from the Haifa area in light of fires in the northern port city, according to police estimates as of Thursday afternoon. According to latest figures, there were 30 reports of light injury due to smoke inhalation.

The University of Haifa was also evacuated on as a precautionary move as fires raged closer.

Police Chief Roni Alsheich said on Thursday that only those in neighborhoods affected should leave their homes, in order to leave important traffic arteries free for those who need to evacuate quickly, as well as for the use of emergency services.

Alsheich said residents in neighborhoods which are in need of evacuation would receive automatic SMS notifications.

He added that not all fires will be connected to arson, and said that these rumors will only strengthen the hand of those who seek to cause more terror.

In addition, trains between the northern towns of Binyamina and Hadera were halted at the request of fire and rescue services as fires neared the railway tracks in the Caesarea region.

Seven firefighting teams were also working to control a fire approaching the Rishonim junction near the central town of Rishon Lezion and prevent it from reaching nearby warehouses and a gas station.

On Thursday morning, Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan told Army Radio that 50% of these fires were caused by repeated arson.

Also on Army Radio, Shimon Ben Ner, a senior Haifa firefighter, said “I know for a fact that they tried to set fire to the department’s station in Haifa deliberately to cause the Haifa fire department to be paralyzed.”

Earlier Thursday morning, authorities evacuated residents from several streets in the city’s northern Mount Carmel neighborhood of Romema. Additional fires broke out in the Ramot Sappir neighborhood of Haifa, prompting a nearby kindergarten to evacuate.

Fires also broke out in an open field bordering Haifa’s main fire station. Flames from burning brush spread to parked cars and nearby warehouses, and has crossed the road. Highway 22 and the Paz Bridge have both been closed to traffic, and the police reported two injuries in the area. All forces were working to control the flames.

Additionally, the Israel Electric Company declared a state of alert. Several power-lines and company substations were damaged due to the fires, resulting in temporary power cuts and other safety issues. Another fire erupted in the vicinity of the Orot Rabin power station in Hadera.

The police spokesman also reported a renewal of a fire in Talmon, a settlement in the West Bank east of Modi’in. Several structures, porches, and gas cylinders were ablaze, spreading to nearby yards and houses. The town’s residents were evacuated.

Another fire broke out in Modi’in, the Israeli Police Foreign Press Office reported Thursday morning. Four police cars, eight fire trucks, and two planes were dispatched to handle the fire and prevent injury to residents. Several Modi’in schools were closed, and the Klil Hahoresh, Dotan Valley, and Yair Peleg roads were closed to traffic.

Sections of road 443 near Shilat junction were closed to traffic Thursday morning due to the fire raging near Neve Ilan. The road was reopened shortly thereafter.

Four planes and 49 staff members have arrived from Cyprus and Greece to aid in fighting the fire. Minister Erdan was due to meet with the pilots who came from Greece overnight.

Police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said Wednesday’s fire in Nataf started shortly after 9 a.m., adding that four suspects who may have started the conflagration are being questioned, and will appear before a Jerusalem court Thursday morning.

“The fire quickly spread from a road where construction was being done, and police and fire crews immediately responded,” said Rosenfeld. “Over 200 people were evacuated from the area, where approximately six houses went up in flames. Thankfully, there were no injuries.”

Rosenfeld said 30 fire crews, aided by at least six planes and a police helicopter, battled that blaze for nearly six hours, finally containing it on Wednesday evening.

Asked if there appeared to be a connection between the blazes, Rosenfeld said multiple investigations have been opened to determine if they were triggered by weather conditions or foul play.

Meanwhile, the Immigration Absorption Ministry opened a situation room to help immigrants who need help because of the fire, and an emergency hotline, which can be reached at *2994 or 03-9733333.

Immigration Absorption Minister Sofa Landver made her way to the Haifa International Conference Center to meet with immigrants.

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