HAIFA, Israel – A wildfire roared through parts of Israel’s third-largest city on Thursday, forcing tens of thousands of people to evacuate their homes as the country’s leaders raised the possibility that Arab assailants had intentionally set the blaze.
Spreading quickly due to dry, windy weather, the fire raced through Haifa’s northern neighborhoods, sending panicked residents fleeing from the area.
While there were no serious injuries, several dozen people were hospitalized for smoke inhalation. In a rare move, Israel called up hundreds of military reservists to join overstretched police and firefighters and was making use of an international fleet of firefighting aircraft sent by a slew of countries.
The Haifa blaze was the most serious in a series of fires that have erupted across the country in recent days. On a visit to the area, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said anyone implicated in setting the fires would be punished severely.
“It’s a crime for all intents and purposes and in our opinion it is terror for all intents and purposes,” he said. He said incitement to arson was also playing a role in spreading the fires.