Israel to send firefighters to help battle California blazes

Israel will dispatch a team of firefighters to California to help the US state battle the largest fires in its recent history, the Foreign Ministry announced Friday.

The Israeli delegation, organized together with the Public Security Ministry, is set to depart Sunday and will be in California for two weeks.

Alongside the firefighters, experts on rescue and forest fires, as well as a Foreign Ministry representative, will make the trip, according to a ministry statement.

The Foreign Ministry said the decision to dispatch the firefighters came after “intensive contacts” with the US embassy in Jerusalem and the Israeli consulate in San Francisco on what assistance local authorities needed to battle the blazes.

Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi touted the delegation as as “an expression of the deep friendship between the peoples” and said it underlined the “excellent relations” between the countries.

“I praise the members of the delegation and wish them success on their mission,” he was quoted saying in the ministry statement.

Illustrative: Israeli firefighters extinguish a forest fire near Moshav Tslafon, May 16, 2020. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

The announcement came as more than 50,000 people, forced to flee their homes, were allowed to return as firefighters made progress in their effort to put out massive and deadly wildfires in Northern California.

Officials were working on plans to repopulate other evacuated areas. Cooler weather and higher humidity, along with an influx of equipment and firefighters, continued to help hard-pressed crews fighting the fires burning in and around the San Francisco Bay Area.

Evacuation orders for more than 20,000 people were lifted over the past 24 hours in San Mateo and Santa Cruz counties, where a massive blaze caused by lightning was 24% surrounded, fire officials announced.

In heavily damaged areas, crews were working to restore electricity and water so more people can return to their homes, Santa Cruz County Chief Deputy Chris Clark said.

The fire has burned at least 516 homes but the tally could rise. Inspection teams were struggling to get into remote areas because bridges were damaged and roads blocked by fallen trees and power lines, fire officials said.

Workers with Davey Resource Group survey the damage to the trees in a neighborhood in Boulder Creek, California, on August 25, 2020, after the the CZU August Lightning Complex Fire passed by. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)

Solano County, north of San Francisco, began allowing people back home on Thursday. In the heart of wine country, evacuation orders in Napa and Sonoma counties were lifted Wednesday for about 35,000 people who had been told to leave after lightning ignited dozens of blazes last week.

Firefighters and utility workers were clearing areas for returning residents after crews increased containment of the massive cluster of fires north of San Francisco to about 33%.

That fire, the site of five of the deaths, still threatened 30,500 homes and other buildings after destroying more than 1,000.

In the eastern San Francisco Bay Area, a fire that has burned in seven counties gained a relatively modest amount of ground — less than 1.6 square miles (4.1 square kilometers) — and was 25% surrounded.

Around the state, hundreds of wildfires — coming months earlier in the season than expected — have already burned more than 2,000 square miles (5,200 square kilometers) and pushed firefighter resources to the breaking point, prompting some residents to form crews and fight them on their own.

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