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Tens Of Thousands Evacuate As Wildfires Rage In Haifa, Israel


Israel's third-largest city is on fire. In Haifa, tens of thousands of people have evacuated their homes. Military reservists, police and firefighters are performing search and rescue operations. Other countries have even sent aircraft to help. Political leaders say this could be politically motivated arson. NPR's Daniel Estrin is on the line from Jerusalem. Hi, there.


SHAPIRO: Describe the scene in Haifa for us. How is the fire affecting the city?

ESTRIN: Well, since this morning, the fire has been quickly spreading through the northern neighborhoods of Haifa. This is a city next to the Mediterranean Sea. It's also right next to forests. And it's unseasonably dry here and also very windy, so the fire is spreading fast.

Homes have been engulfed in the flames. At least 60,000 or so people have been evacuated from the city. Roads have been clogged with cars leaving the city. At least one prison has been evacuated, and universities have also been evacuated, and military reservists have been called up, even some residents trying to put the fires out by connecting hoses from their apartment buildings. But so far there haven't been any serious injuries.

SHAPIRO: Tell us more about the belief that this might have been caused by politically motivated arson.

ESTRIN: Right. Well, the Israeli authorities are still trying to figure out exactly what caused the fires. There have actually been a number of fires in the city, and authorities say they suspect that some of them were due to negligence, like someone tossing a cigarette, and some of them were likely politically motivated arson, a kind of anti-Israel attack. You know, we've seen over the last year a number of Palestinian knife stabbing and other kinds of attacks on Israelis, and the suspicion is that this might be another kind of attack. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called it today a terror.

It could have been that some of the fires began accidentally and then arsonists joined. In, but there is a hashtag in Arabic that's been trending on Twitter - #israelisburning - kind of celebrating the fires because it's not just in Haifa. There have been fires throughout the country for the last three days.

SHAPIRO: There is an international effort to put out the fires, a pretty broad one. Tell us about that.

ESTRIN: Yeah, Israel has gotten help from a number of countries - Greece, Italy, Croatia, Russia, Cyprus also. They've all sent firefighting airplanes, which will dump large amounts of water on the flames. And Turkey has also offered to send a large firefighting plane, and that's interesting because Turkey and Israel formally reconciled this summer and they normalized relations after six years of a soured relationship. So at least 10 firefighting airplanes are being sent here from all those countries. And it's significant because it's not that often that you see that kind of international support for Israel.

SHAPIRO: NPR's Daniel Estrin speaking with us from Jerusalem on the fires raging in Israel and the international response to them. Thanks a lot.

ESTRIN: You're welcome, Ari. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.