Arson? NASA satellite imagery reveals origins of Jerusalem forest fire

Fire broke out in three separate places, four kilometers apart. Findings strengthen assumption that the fire was a result of arson.

Arutz Sheva Staff ,

Battling the blaze
Battling the blaze
Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90

Satellite images obtained by Israeli newspaper Yediot Aharonot from the NASA space agency on Thursday appear to confirm initial assessments of Israeli officials that the massive fire that broke out on Sunday of this week in the Jerusalem hills, burning for over two days and nights, was a result of arson.

The fire broke out on Sunday afternoon, at around three p.m. In the satellite imagery, three separate fires can be seen burning around that time – one near the town of Beit Meir, another near Shoeva, and a third near Ramat Raziel and Givat Ye’arim. The first relevant images obtained are not from the very initial stages of the fire, but rather some time later when the satellite’s cameras focused on that area – yet even at that later stage, the three fires were still distinct from one another. According to intelligence analyst Amitai Dan, the three blazes were at that point around four kilometers apart.

“The ability to make use of such imagery and technology enables professionals and laymen alike to spot fires and investigate them in real time as well as after the event,” Dan explains. “In this particular blaze, for instance, we were able to locate three separate areas where fires broke out, calculate the distance between them, see which way they were headed, and conclude that the chances that they started naturally are close to nil.”

Parallel to the analysis of the satellite imagery, Israeli expert investigators have also come to the conclusion that the blaze was the result of human action, either intentional or due to negligence. Investigations conducted near Beit Meir at the place where the fire broke out suggest that it is an unlikely spot for hikers to have stopped to rest and smoke a cigarette or light a barbecue, as the ground there is very steep and the vegetation very dense. That particular area is also not known to be one frequented by either hikers or people in vehicles. During the course of the investigation, police will be using various technologies to determine if any smartphones were in that area around the time that the fire started.

The fire was only brought under control on Tuesday around seven o’clock in the evening, after over two days. The heat, the arid weather, and the strong westerly winds all contributed to the blaze against which over ten fire fighting teams as well as several planes battled.

The Parks and Nature Authority estimates that the fire destroyed a huge area of around 25,000 dunams of trees. The view from the surrounding towns and villages has become one of charred and blackened landscape, and it will likely be years before the natural vegetation is restored.

Fortunately, no loss of life was reported despite the extent of the blaze, and although thousands of people were evacuated from six separate communities, only two homes sustained fire damage, and of course the Metzuda winery, which was totally destroyed. The residents have now returned to their homes to try and pick up the pieces of their lives, even as they have come face-to-face with man’s vulnerability despite all his technological advances – an apt-enough message just weeks before Rosh Hashanah.



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