Huge fire rages in Jerusalem

2010-07-25 17:06

Jerusalem - Thousands of Jerusalem homes were evacuated on Sunday as a massive blaze tore through a forest near a hospital on the outskirts of the Holy City, Israeli police said.

At least 20 fire engines rushed to the scene of the blaze which started in woodlands near Hadassa hospital, just above the village of Ein Kerem, believed to be the biblical home of John the Baptist.

"The fire is huge," police spokesperson Mickey Rosenfeld told AFP. "It is covering a huge area of several acres."

"We have evacuated the whole population of Moshav Ora and Aminadav, as well as Even Sapir," he said, referring to three collective villages in the hills of southwest Jerusalem which are home to more than 2 000 people.

Police were conducting house-to-house searches to ensure no-one was left behind, he said. There were no immediate reports of injuries.

Two planes and a fire fighting helicopter were overflying the area in a bid to douse the flames with water and fire retardant.

Several vehicles in the hospital car park had gone up in flames, he said, adding that the emergency vehicles had quickly secured the area around the hospital.

Huge clouds of smoke were billowing into the air, obscuring much of the view across the sprawling valley, local witnesses said.

Many roads leading to the area were closed to allow speedier access for emergency vehicles trying to reach the scene, they said.