Fire rages near Jerusalem Holocaust Museum

10:02, July 18, 2011      

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Israeli firefighters extinguish a forest fire in Jerusalem, July 17, 2011. A fire broke out and spread Sunday through Jerusalem's forests, next to Mount Herzl and the Holocaust Museum, while strong winds hinder firefighters' attempts to extinguish the blazes. (Xinhua/Yin Dongxun)

Fire spread throughout a forest valley and foothills near the Yad Vashem Holocaust Museum in Jerusalem on Sunday, prompting a hurried evacuation of the center.

"At 3:30 p.m., we received initial reports of fires that broke out in several locations - first three, and then four sites, and then all the fire and rescue services converged on the scene," an Israeli police official told reporters at a late afternoon briefing.

"We closed all the traffic arteries and were forced to close Yad Vashem, due to heavy smoke that enveloped the area," he said.

The blaze, which fire officials said started in four locations, also threatened a nearly hillside oil depot and residential neighborhoods, although firefighters said by 6 p.m. that they expected to be able to fully douse remaining hotspots within the hour.

Israel Fire and Rescue Service chief Shahar Ayalon said at the briefing that the cause of the multiple sources of ignition were being investigated.

A Fire and Rescue Services spokesman told Xinhua that 30 firetrucks and six firefighting planes had been sent to the area.

Two museum employees suffered from smoke inhalation, and strong winds hindered firefighters' attempts to extinguish the blazes.

Israel Police blocked all main roads in the area, causing rush hour traffic jams along the city's main arteries.

"It's getting very hard to put an end to the fire," Fire and Rescue Service spokesman Yoram Levy told Xinhua earlier," and it's spreading out of control, I really can't say when we will put it out."

Area residents were instructed to remain indoors and keep their windows closed.

"We are telling the neighbors in the Har Nof neighborhood to stay inside their houses, we're not evacuating them yet, but they must close the windows because the smoke is very heavy," the spokesman said.

Last Thursday another fire broke out in the nature reserve of Ein Tina in the Galilee, that burned hundreds of acres of land.

Firefighters were also trying to contain a blaze in an area in the Judean Hills, Bar Giora.

Source: Xinhua

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