On Sunday, August 15, the sky above Jerusalem darkened by a looming orange-colored cloud, and the smell of smoke permeated the air throughout the capital. The forests west of Jerusalem were on fire, and it was the worst forest fire in decades.
According to the media reports, the fire consumed over 6,000 acres, which is more than the devastating Carmel forest fires in 2010. Over 1,500 fire fighters worked for three days straight with 20 airplanes and countless firetrucks until the fire was under control. The psychiatric hospital Eitanim had to be evacuated, and at one point it looked like they would need to evacuate Hadassah Hospital, a major medical center in south Jerusalem.
Despite the devastation, Hadassah remained unaffected by the fire. No lives were lost and only a few houses burned up. Still, it will take many years to restore the forested hill because of the damage causes. The authorities believe it was caused by human actions, but at this point it’s unclear whether it was negligence or arson.
KNI spoke to two believers who both live in affected communities and had to evacuate their homes. “I usually work from home, but on this specific day I had to be in Jerusalem for an errand,” Tal says (not his real name). “My wife called me and said she saw smoke, but it was from afar, and I told her not to worry and that I’ll be home shortly. I got in my car, but already on the way, I saw that enormous cloud and realized this was serious. The closer I got to home, the bigger it was. It was huge and orange. It really felt like I was driving into the fire.”
By the time he arrived at his home in one of the small villages west of Jerusalem, many of his neighbors were already evacuating. He came in the last minute and spent less than two minutes getting the family into the car and drove away from the fire. “We have a forest opposite our home – and we saw trees catching fire, as close as 50 meters from our home. The heat was unbearable. The hot air goes up, and cold air rushes in to take its place, so you get these strong winds, like a storm. I’ve never experienced anything like it, it was really frightening. Sparks from the fire on one side of the village flew above and ignited the forest on the other side, so we had the fire on all sides. We left the place at the last moment. We didn’t even lock the door, and we only brought what we could get together in haste. Just a few minutes after we left, they closed the road leading to the village.”
Some villagers stayed despite the danger, and were not harmed, but endured hours of not knowing whether they would survive. They called the fire department, who couldn’t do anything at that stage. They just told them to cover up with wet blankets and pray. Some villagers fought the fire themselves, using garden hoses, while waiting for the fire department to show up. “We left and prayed, not knowing if we would have a home to come back to,” Tal told KNI. “As we drove we all prayed, we said, ‘Lord, you are sovereign. You can do a miracle. Please. Let us come back home.’ It didn’t seem plausible. Everything around went up in flames, the winds were strong, and the fire department hadn’t even arrived at our village yet.”
Another believer, Orly (not her real name), also lives in a village west of Jerusalem. “My house is located high up, with a grand view, and sadly, we often spot forest fires when they occur,” she tells KNI.
“This one looked different. It was closer than usual, and I felt strongly from the Lord that we need to prepare to evacuate.” Twenty minutes later, she received a message on her phone that the village has to be evacuated. “As a single mom who takes care of kids with special needs, I wouldn’t be able to get everything ready in just a few minutes,” she says.
“It was God’s grace that I felt I needed to prepare it in advance.” She got the children and the pets in the car, and by the time she left, the electricity in the home had already shut down. “I saw burning trees close to the village, and while driving through the village on my way out, I saw that the fire had already spread to places within the village. My children know Psalm 91 by heart, so we prayed it out loud together as we were driving. I was crying the whole way, we didn’t know what was going to happen.”
Tal and his family went to live with relatives in Tel Aviv while following the news to see when they could return and see if they had any home left. Orly went to the Messianic moshav, Yad HaShmona, who took her and her children in with open arms.
“I followed the news, and judging by the footage, it looked like half of our village had burned down,” Orly says. “But it was like God set his hand against the fire and didn’t allow it to consume the houses. One person had a car burn up, but not the house. Someone else’s garden went up in flames and a tree standing right next to the house burned, but the house didn’t catch fire at all. One of my neighbors said, ‘now I know God loves me.’ It was a miracle.”
Tal also saw the same in his village. “Watching the news from a safe distance in Tel Aviv, we saw interviews with my neighbors on the news and, based on the reports, I realized our home was probably still standing. They allowed us to come home a few days later. Our home was intact. Not even our garden was harmed. We had a few bags of old baby clothes outside that we had planned to donate – not even a tiny hole from the sparks. Nothing. Of course, the smoke smell was everywhere, and it was hard to sleep, but the house was okay. It just shows the power of prayer. Some of my neighbors had their gardens or cars burned. There was damage on all four sides of our house – and our place was fine. I almost felt guilty that our house had fared so well.”
Despite the damage, a minimal number of homes were destroyed. Tal was surprised how intact the village was. “I had expected a lot more damage,” he says. Being back home with the family, he says the smell of the smoke is less and less every day now. During the first few days after returning home, he would notice spontaneous new fire combustions in the forest once in a while, which he had to report, but those are occurring less and less as well.
“We are still a bit traumatized. We jump up every time we see a cloud in a strange shape. It will take some time to get over.” Tal also emphasizes how thankful he is to people who offered them help, brought them food, and most of all – prayers.
Orly also expresses her thankfulness. “We didn’t know what we were coming home to, and what we saw was a miracle,” she told KNI. “I thank God with all my heart, more than I ever have. And I thank everyone who prayed. We came back home, and everything was exactly as we had left it. I had sent out prayer requests to people, and they stood with me in prayer for my house and for the village. I received a lot of messages. People I hadn’t heard from in years reached out. They were interested in how we were doing. They asked if they could help. Many offered to open up their house for us. It was so touching. The feeling of family, not being alone, being held up in prayer, it was really important for us.”
“When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze. For I am the Lord your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior.” – Isaiah 43:2-3