Last updated: 17 July, 2011

Holocaust museum evacuated as fire nears Jerusalem

Israeli rescue services evacuated the Yad Vashem Holocaust Museum on Sunday as a large forest fire raged out of control, threatening several Jerusalem neighbourhoods, rescue workers said.

Thick grey smoke billowed up through the forested hills on Jerusalem’s southwestern flank as fire fighters battled the blaze and diving aircraft attempted to douse the flames, an AFP photographer said.

“We have evacuated all the workers and tourists from Yad Vashem,” police spokeswoman Luba Samri said, adding that one person was hospitalised for smoke inhalation.

A Yad Vashem spokeswoman said some of the staff had remained behind to try to protect the trove of irreplaceable artefacts.

“Some of the staff including the director general and security people have remained behind to try and help and make sure everything is okay,” Esti Yaari told AFP.

“The flames are not yet at Yad Vashem but it is very smoky here,” she said. “Nothing has been damaged as far as we know at the moment and we hope it stays like that.”

Yad Vashem is the main museum in Israel commemorating the six million Jews killed by the Nazi regime during World War II.

It is a major source of research on the Nazi persecution of the Jews and includes a historical museum on Jewish communities lost in the Holocaust.

Emergency services spokesman Boaz Rakia said the fire was out of control and threatening residential areas.

“The fire is raging in the Jerusalem forest and it is heading east and endangering some Jerusalem neighbourhoods,” he told AFP. “At the moment it is not under control.”

The Ynet news website reported concerns the flames could reach the nearby Pi Glilot fuel depot.

Samri said police, firefighters and the city had set up an emergency board to oversee efforts to combat the blaze.

Israeli public radio said one row of houses was also being evacuated. But Samri could not immediately confirm the report, saying only that some residents had been told to stay indoors and shut all windows.