The operations chief of Jerusalem's Fire Services reported that fires in the Motza area are all under control after firefighting teams nationwide were scrambled to to battle a massive blaze that erupted near the capital Tuesday afternoon. He nevertheless noted that it would take a while to extinguish the smaller fires.
Fire and Rescue Services Commissioner Shahar Ayalon postulated that the massive blaze could have broken out due to arson. "A fire doesn't start itself. This was either caused by negligence or was lit intentionally," he said.
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Police closed the Jerusalem-Tel Aviv Highway (Highway 1) in both directions and reopened it two hours later. Some residents in the Motza area were evacuated. Four people suffered mild smoke inhalation injuries.
According the Fire Department, 35 firefighting teams were trying to contain the flames. Six IAF planes assisted in their efforts.
Fire near Ma'ale Hachamisha (Photo: Moshe Ben-Hamo)
Internal Security Minister Yitzhak Aharonovitch arrived at a command center set up at the Givat Shaul cemetery and said that as of yet there was no indication for arson but that the matter will be investigated by the police and Fire Services.
Meanwhile, guests of a hotel in Kibbutz Ma'ale Hachamisha were also evacuated after another fire erupted nearby.
"I'm at home with my daughters and we can hardly breathe," said Har Nof resident Yechiel Feldman. "We are relatively far from the origin of the fire, but we can see the smoke. The buildings in Mevaseret Zion are barely visible."
Moshe Ben Hamo, from Ma'aleh Adumim, who was travelling on Highway 1, said "we are stuck in a traffic jam that is starting to become a death trap, because the fire is getting closer to us from the wadi. People are getting out of their cars and are watching. We are not sure why the police is not opening the road so we can turn around."
Ben Hamo added that "some people are hysterical, and have left their vehicles and crossed to the other side of the road to catch a ride."
Battling the blaze (Photo: Daniel Cohen)
Ruth Yemini, who was travelling by bus from Jerusalem to Beit Shemesh, said it was engulfed in smoke: "People yelled at the drive to open the door. They recalled the Carmel disaster and said they did not want to stay on the bus, but the driver refused to open the doors. Eventually a woman convinced him to open the doors, and she and another person got off."
Rami Medel, a driver who was stuck in Motza Junction, which was blocked due to the fire, told Ynet that he abandoned his vehicle at the side of the road and caught a ride in the opposite direction.
Heavy smoke near Ma'ale Hachamisha (Photo: Moshe Ben Hemo)
"I saw thick smoke and the flames began spreading in the direction of the road, there was no where to escape," Mendel described the moments of horror.
"Women and children left their vehicles and escaped. They crossed the highway by foot and tried to catch rides. The trauma from the Carmel fire is back, because the fire has spread to the trees in Mevaseret," he said.
On Sunday Jerusalem firefighters extinguished no fewer than 15 fires that broke out in the city.
"We fear that most of today's fires were caused by arson," Jerusalem fire chief Capt. Shmulik Friedman told Ynet. "At some of the sites there is even evidence to that effect."
Authorities are investigating the fire. A security source told Ynet that all leads are pursued at this time, including arson.
Shiri Hadar, Hassan Shaalan and Omri Efraim contributed to the report
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