Environmental Hazard: Underground Blaze Smolders in Ma’alot

June 11, 2012  

Smoke rising from a smoldering underground blaze in Ma’alot is affecting residents’ health – but locals say the city isn’t taking effective action to put the fire out.

The blaze apparently ignited on May 12, according to the woman whose house is located closest to the burning mound and who spoke in an exclusive interview with Arutz Sheva on Monday evening. She and her neighbor requested anonymity due concerns over security, since it is still not clear how the fire was started, and Ma’alot is very close to the Lebanese border.

“About two or three times a week city officials come and either spray it with water and dump dirt on it,” she said Monday. Someone from the city comes to monitor the smoldering mound every single day, she added, noting that officials are well aware the area is unsafe.

The forested mixed Jewish-Arab town is located in the Western Galilee about 20 kilometers (12 miles) east of of the northern Israeli coastal city of Nahariya. It is known as the “Switzerland of the Galilee” due to its green mountainous landscape, and is home to about 24,000 residents. Any fire is dangerous; a smoldering month-long underground blaze would be a firefighter’s nightmare in such an environment.

“A firefighter complained to me that really the city should put a fence around this thing because people keep throwing things over there and burning them,” her neighbor commented. “But that is not doing anything about the fire itself. They chose instead to cover this huge burning pit filled with tree cuttings and other materials.

“Smoke continues to rise from the site – it’s only 150 meters from my home, at the bottom of a hill. “The first time flames shot up from the mound, my children and grandchildren were so terrified they ran to the synagogue and were afraid to come home,” she said.

“We can’t open the windows anymore – the smell of smoke is terrible. It permeates everything, even inside the house. We don’t even open the windows in the evening, and still everything in the house smells of smoke.”

Residents said they have contacted various government agencies – including the Environmental Protection Ministry – as well as the city government, but with little success. 

They also point out that they are located very close to Israel’s northern border, and that an extremely hot, dry summer is fast approaching. 

Residents told Arutz Sheva they were informed by the municipality, that since the fire was not started by the city, it has no responsibility to do more than it already has.  

“Because we live in the periphery there are not enough witnesses to this serious environmental health hazard,” the two neighbors said. “I made aliyah to Ma’alot in 2010 because of the clean environment,” one pointed out. “Now I am being exposed to continuous products of combustion. This situation needs to be resolved – but it seems that firefighting experts need to be called in.”

The mayor could not be reached for comment.

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