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Haifa Evacuates 80,000 Residents, 7 Countries Send Firefighting Planes

Courtesy TPS, Michael Avior

JERUSALEM, Israel – The Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) is investigating the multiple fires raging across Israel for the third day, while Police Commissioner Roni Alsheikh said "terror is the probable cause."

"Arrests have and will be made," Alsheikh said, "and police will remain in the areas to prevent looting and help calm residents."

Firefighting planes from Cyprus, Croatia, Italy, Greece and Russia arrived Thursday and Russia later said it was sending two additional jumbo planes. The U.S. is  sending a 747 super tanker and Turkey also offered to send aircraft. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said he appreciated the offer.

Security personnel began evacuating neighborhoods, schools, and nursing facilities, going door to door in some neighborhoods to assist residents. Highways and roads were shut down across the country.

By late afternoon, Haifa Mayor Yona Yahav said 60,000 residents, nearly a quarter of the city's population, were evacuated from their homes. That number later climbed to 80,000.

"This is unprecedented in regard to Haifa," Yahav said.

When asked how long the city will have to battle the fires, he said, "Basically a question which has to be referred to God. We don't know."

Haifa resident Yael Hammer spoke from her car about an hour after she left home and headed for family outside the city. Thankfully, she had enough time to gather her personal belongings.

"It was impossible to stay there even if the fire was not exactly in my place because it was full of smoke and smell and dirt," she said. "I had no electricity."

By midday, paramedics treated at least 100 people for smoke inhalation.

One meteorologist told journalists the extremely dry conditions made the forecast less than optimistic.

"Everywhere it's dangerous," he said, urging people to take extra precautions and avoid grilling outdoors.

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