Israeli fires burn homes, thousands of acres of forest

A handful of people, including firefighters, were slightly injured, mainly from smoke inhalation. Fire and Rescue Commissioner Moshe Vardi called the northern blazes "very serious," adding that negligence appeared to be the cause.

Meanwhile, in the Jerusalem Forest and Latrun area, two major fires destroyed numerous acres of forest and brush. Police suspect that the Jerusalem Forest fire was caused by arson.

The worst of fires broke out Monday on Mount Carmel less than 24 hours after a huge blaze ravaged part of Haifa's upscale Danya quarter, which adjoins the Carmel National Park. Other fires raged in Zichron Ya'acov, Ein Hod, the nearby Bedouin hamlet of Ein Hud, and neighboring Moshav Nir Etzion.

The damage from the fires in Danya, Zichron Ya'acov, Nir Etzion, Ein Hod and Ein Hud is expected to run into millions of dollars, in addition to the costs incurred by the use of Israel Air Force helicopters and light planes to help douse the flames.

The Hadera-Haifa road was closed on several occasions amid efforts to fight the fires, whose flames shot as high as 60 feet into the air on Monday.

IAF helicopters flew dozens of missions, filling huge buckets hung from cables and then dumping the water onto what some firefighters referred to as "a firestorm."

Earlier this week, firefighters were also battling to extinguish blazes in the Latrun area off the Jerusalem-Tel Aviv highway. Police from Jerusalem and the territories evacuated the area around the time when the fire started, apparently in an old minefield.

The fire in the Jerusalem Forest began early Monday afternoon between Ein Kerem and Yad Vashem. Police evacuated the forest, and firefighters and rescue teams extinguished the fire by 9 p.m.

Jerusalem police spokesman Shmuel Ben-Ruby said investigators found the fire had started in a number of places, indicating that arson was the cause.

Arson is also suspected in a chain of blazes that erupted in the Wadi Ara region in the past week. Four Israeli Arabs were arrested Monday on suspicion of starting fires over the past two weeks in the Wadi Ara area.