Messianic pastor’s home burned by wildfires around Nazareth

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The home of pastor Sergey Bocharnikov was badly damaged in the wildfires on October 9 in the city Nof HaGalil, next to Nazareth. The pastor and his family were evacuated before the fire arrived to the house, and are safe in a hotel.

They were among about 10,000 people who were evacuated during the day, and among the 40 who were not able to return to their home the following day. Channel 12 news reported that 800 people were provided hotel rooms by the municipality, and the Hebrew news website Ynet added that another 200 hotel rooms were given by the adjacent Arab municipality of Nazareth.

Bocharnikov is the pastor of a Russian-speaking Messianic congregation in the city called “Spirit of Life.”

Nof HaGalil is a mostly Jewish city of 41,000 inhabitants located next to the ancient city of Nazareth, which today is an Arab city of 77,000 inhabitants. Nof HaGalil was originally called “Upper Nazareth” but changed its name in 2019 to prevent confusion between the two separate municipalities. Only one street divides the two cities.

The fire burned over 3,000 dunams (1.16 square miles) of the Churchill forest around the city. Channel 12 reported that 6 airplanes were employed to extinguish the massive blazes on Saturday. It’s the worst wildfire in the area in decades. On Saturday morning, the municipality declared five houses unfit for living in and three others as badly hurt, according to Ynet. Most of the evacuated inhabitants were sent home as the danger has passed, but Sergey’s family was not among them.

“None of our inhabitants will lack a roof over their head,” the mayor Ronen Plot said according to Ynet. “We will cover the costs for now and settle the bill with the government later. I urge the government to confirm a special emergency budget for this and transfer it without bureaucracy.” The education minister, Yoav Galant, has confirmed 400 laptops for school children in the city, to ensure they will be able to join their schools’ online lessons.

According to the Bocharnikov family emergency fundraiser, the fire burned the roof, including water pipes and electrical wires. The entire roof, due to firefighting efforts, was flooded with water which entered the house and caused internal damages. All outbuildings and fruit trees burned down. “I am shocked,” Pastor Sergey said to Ynet. “This is difficult. The garden was my life project. I built these outbuildings with my own hands, I planted each one of these fruit trees.”

His daughter, Lily, spoke to KNI. “They evacuated us around 12 on Friday,” she says. “I was working from home because of the lockdown, so I had to stop everything in the middle, shut my laptop and bring it with me. My parents grabbed some clothes, and we left. They offered for us to go to a hotel, but initially we preferred to stay with friends. But after we got the call that the house had been burned, we went to the hotel. Many people from our congregation were also evacuated, but only our house was damaged.”

“So from all the Messianic Jews in Nof HaGalil, only the Pastor’s house burned?”

“Yes, Satan sure knows where to attack. Thankfully, most of the damage is on the outside, so our possessions are intact. Still, we can’t live there for now. The priority is to fix the roof before the winter rains start.”

The wave of wildfires in seven different places in Israel are a direct cause of the hot weather. Nevertheless, they have ignited a suspicion that Palestinian terrorists could be behind some of them. Security forces are gathering evidence and trying to find suspects. “Most fires were caused by people, but we can’t know if they were ignited on purpose or not,” a fire department spokesman said to Channel 12.

Besides Nof HaGalil, people were evacuated because of wildfires in Kfar Oranim, Mevo Dotan, Emek Hefer and Hadera, among others. Meteorologist Nir Stav explained to the Israeli paper Globes that since there is no rain in the summer in Israel, everything becomes very hot and dry if no rain has fallen before October, and this year we had exceptional heatwaves in September. This is why the fall is the most dangerous time for wildfires, just as the ones that ravaged different parts of Israel in 2010 and 2016.

So far there have been no casualties of the wildfires except injuries from smoke inhalation.

Sergey Bocharnikov’s home in Nof HaGalil