A day after a giant fire broke out in Motza, Internal Security Minister Yitzhak Aharonovitch said Wednesday that he was not ruling out the possibility that the Motza blaze had been set intentionally and from nationalist motives.
"We believe, due to how close the sites and time line are, that this was arson. It's being investigated," he told the Knesset.
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Aharonovitch discussed the many fires in and around Jerusalem in recent weeks. "There have been dozens, even hundreds of incidents in Jerusalem and people have even been arrested, some suspected of nationalist motives," he said.
"This is most serious. I hope that those who set yesterday's fire will be indicted, if in fact it was arson."
The minister characterized the fires as "spontaneous terrorism."
Tuesday's raging forest fire (Photo: Moshe Ben-Hamo)
"You don't need an organization to set fire to a forest, and therefore every incident must be investigated. There could also be someone who is putting these things together, but that's an issue that the Jerusalem District Police are investigating."
Motza residents who were told to evacuate their homes on Tuesday looked around, amazed, at the charred surroundings. Yehudit said: "I'm just amazed – I can't believe it. My heart hurts. Everything here is so precious to us. I had a feeling that we'd lost everything, but (our) great luck is that the house itself wasn't damaged and the courtyard can be salvaged."
Yehudit's son, Eliyahu, who was home at the time of the fire, recalls that "the fire almost reached the courtyard, but stopped at the gate. I saw the flames. The fire just surrounded the house on every side, except for the part next to the road. When the fire broke out, special forces came and took me and other people who rent apartments here out to the main highway."
Eliyahu said that everything the family had stored in a shed had been destroyed, including beehives.
Jerusalem firefighters were kept busy on Wednesday, as well. Three squads were scrambled to the site of a brush fire in an open lot on Granot Street near Nayot Junction. The fire spread toward a caravan and one person was lightly injured from smoke inhalation and taken to Shaare Zedek Medical Center for treatment.
Earlier Wednesday, two firefighting squads extinguished a brush fire that broke out near a building in the village of Tzur Bahar in southeast Jerusalem. One woman was lightly injured from smoke inhalation.
Meanwhile, as the summer heats up in more ways than one, the Internal Security Ministry released on Wednesday alarming data about the state of the Fire and Rescue Service that indicated that a year and a half after the Carmel disaster, the service is far from functioning as it should.
A 1970s-era fire truck - fit for service? (Photo: Aviyahu Shapira)
According to the numbers, 70 fire trucks dating from the 70s and 80s are still in service, as well as 11 from the early 1990s. Moreover, the report said, only 301 fire trucks are in service in Israel, while standards stipulate 382.
Aside from the outdated equipment, the report cited that the average response time for firefighters in Israel was 17 minutes, compared to 7-10 minutes elsewhere. And when the squad does arrive, it is comprised of only two firefighters, compared to five in the first response squad in other countries.
The ministry outlined a plan calling to hire 300-400 new firefighters, establish 10-15 new fire stations or "launching sites," found a training center, acquire 25-35 new fire trucks, and expand the volunteer fire service to 10,000 participants.
Noam "Dabul" Dvir contributed to this report
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