Wildfires that have been burning across Israel since Tuesday have continued to spread, reaching Haifa, Israel's third-largest city. The fires, which the government has partially blamed on arsonists, have forced the temporary closure of a major Jerusalem-Tel Aviv highway.
While there have been no major injuries yet, AFP reports that 50,000 of the city’s nearly 250,000 residents have been evacuated. “The fire is out of control and is spreading from one house to the other,” rescue service chief, Naftali Rottenberg told public radio.
Residents in eight other neighborhoods have been told to leave due to six different fires that are spreading. Police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld told AFP that four evacuation centers have been set up.
On Wednesday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said some of the fires were started by arsonists, but police chief Roni Alsheich said not all fires are connected to the act and wanted to put an end to the rumor as he believes it will motivate those who want to cause terror, the Jerusalem Post reports.
Extreme weather such high temperatures and dry winds are also causing the fire to spread. “When you have simultaneous fires raging you can’t rule out the possibility of arson. All leads are being pursued, but our first priority is to extinguish the fire. The extreme weather is making it difficult, and we are preparing for an intense couple of days,” Fire and Rescue Services Coastal District Commander Amos Yaakov told Israel Today.
Although no deaths have yet to be reported, the national ambulance service said 35 people have been treated for smoke inhalation. There have also been reports of residents being trapped by flames.
“We evacuated three neighborhoods and there are people who are stuck,” fire department spokesman Kayed Daher told AFP. “The fire is still burning and the flames are approaching a gas station.”