The massive blaze that erupted in the Jerusalem area on Sunday grew in scope and intensity on Monday afternoon after winds picked up speed, forcing the Israel Fire and Rescue Service to mobilize personnel from all over Israel and order the evacuation of another 2,000 people.

Residents of three villages were forced to evacuate on Monday as the fire continued to spread west of Jerusalem, and authorities warned that the fire was approaching a Jerusalem hospital and could force a massive evacuation there as well. First responders were preparing for a rapid evacuation, although no decision was made as of late afternoon.

Three homes were destroyed on Monday, said the authorities, a day after residents of multiple communities had to evacuate from the Jerusalem area because of the approaching flames.

So far, more than 4,200 acres (6.5 square miles) have been burned, forcing 10,000 people to leave their homes in almost 10 communities west of Jerusalem, including Beit Meir, Ksalon, Ramat Raziel, Shoresh, Sho’eva and Givat Ye’arim.

Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett at a command-and-control center set up in Jerusalem to discuss a raging fire in Jerusalem and its environs, Aug. 15, 2021. Credit: GPO/Kobi Gideon.

On Sunday evening, Defense Minister Benny Gantz ordered the military to assist firefighters in battling the blaze. Home Front Command firefighters and search-and-rescue teams, as well Unit 669, the military’s elite airborne rescue formation, subsequently deployed to the Jerusalem area. By Monday evening, Israeli authorities said they were looking at calling in help from abroad.

The Home Front Command’s situation room was coordinating the joint fire department-police-military effort, according to the IDF.

Jerusalem District Fire Commander Nissim Twito and the capital’s police chief Doron Turgeman held a situation meeting on-site on Monday. Twito noted that efforts were currently focused on getting the existing hotspots under control and preventing new ones from forming. Turgeman said that overnight, police forces patrolled areas cleared by the fire department to ensure that looting did not take place in areas where residents were forced to flee the blaze.

Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett paused Sunday’s cabinet meeting when the fire department ordered the mass evacuation of civilians from the area to personally monitor the developments.
Late that night, he arrived at a command-and-control center set up on-site to oversee the developments.

Fire department officials said the fire was being investigated as arson, adding that the flames were fueled by the high temperatures and strong winds in the area.

This article originally appeared in Israel Hayom. 

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