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Monday, May 29, 2023

Haze, dust cloud skies as Israel swelters under heatwave; fires banned in parks

Dust and haze blanketed Israel’s skies on Saturday, as the country sweltered under a heatwave and officials warned of the danger of forest fires and flash floods.

Temperatures were set to reach 35-40°C (95-104°F) in various parts of the country.

Authorities said there was a chance of rain in the east, with potentially dangerous flash floods.

Due to the extreme weather conditions, Fire and Rescue Commissioner Eyal Caspi signed an order prohibiting the lighting of fires in open areas throughout the country from 8:00 a.m.

The order will remain in effect for 24 hours and came amid concerns that the dry weather and strong winds could increase the chance of fires spreading.

The ban applies to lighting fires in parks, forests and nature reserves.

On Monday, a number of homes and 200 students were evacuated as a massive fire spread near the central city of Petah Tikva, also damaging train equipment and causing transportation delays.

Firefighters tackle a forest fire at Segula Junction on May 22, 2023. (Fire and Rescue Service)

At the same time, firefighting planes were deployed to help fight a blaze at Biriya Forest in the Upper Galilee region.

The vast majority of forest fires in Israel are manmade and are usually the result of negligence.

Israel experiences long, hot and dry summers, with conditions ripe for wildfires. Large blazes broke out in 1989, 1995, 2010, 2015, 2019, and 2021.

Climate models show that such large-scale blazes are getting more frequent and more fast-spreading, in part due to the climate crisis raising temperatures and causing even more extreme summers with drier conditions.

Temperatures were set to fall on Sunday, with rain expected in many parts of the country.

However, authorities warned that there was a chance of dangerous flash flooding in the south.

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