Firefighters battle second day of blazes near Jerusalem

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JERUSALEM (AFP) – Fires tore through the hills west of Jerusalem for a second day on Monday (Aug 16) as firefighters struggled to contain an expanding blaze, Israeli police and the fire service said.

Police and local officials “began evacuating hundreds of families” from communities on the western outskirts of Jerusalem, police said in a statement.

Ten firefighting planes and a helicopter supported hundreds of firefighters, the National Fire and Rescue Authority said in a statement.

“The rate of fire progress is extremely fast,” it said, adding that in some areas, firefighters were able to contain the blazes but not overcome them.

Fire and Rescue Commissioner Dedi Simchi announced he was calling all fire and rescue personnel to help battle the “huge” blaze.

The fires had broken out in the wooded hills east of Jerusalem on Sunday, sending acrid-smelling clouds of smoke that hung over the holy city and its iconic Dome of the Rock and forcing the evacuation of a psychiatric hospital.

Firefighters managed to contain the blaze before strong winds sent flames racing through the trees again on Monday afternoon.

A spokesperson for the Fire and Rescue Authority told AFP three communities had been evacuated so far.

Police said the cause of the fire was not clear.

Fires have flared this summer around the Mediterranean basin, including in Greece, Turkey, Algeria and Morocco.

Israel experienced a week-long heatwave in early August.