Firefighters respond to a fire in Boulder Creek in Santa Cruz County, Aug. 23, 2020. (Photo/JTA-Kent Nishimura-Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)
Firefighters respond to a fire in Boulder Creek in Santa Cruz County, Aug. 23, 2020. (Photo/JTA-Kent Nishimura-Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)

Israeli firefighters head to S.F. to help battle wildfires

A team of Israeli firefighters is scheduled to arrive in San Francisco Sunday morning to help battle the wildfires raging throughout the Bay Area, and across the state.

It is the first time Israeli firefighters have been sent to fight on the ground in the United States, said Shlomi Kofman, Israel’s S.F.-based consul general who serves the Pacific Northwest region.

As of Friday, three massive fire complexes had burned more than 1,290 square miles from Yolo to Santa Cruz counties, destroying close to 2,000 buildings and leading to six deaths, according to Cal Fire. Statewide, more than 2,600 square miles have burned this season, leading to seven fatalities. The three major conflagrations in the greater Bay Area — the so-called SCU, LNU and CZU fires, each sparked by lightning in mid-August — were between 26 and 35 percent contained as of Friday morning, according to Cal Fire.

Ten firefighters from Israel’s Fire and Rescue Services will be arriving Sunday “with all their personal gear,” Kofman said. They will be accompanied by a representative from Israel’s Foreign Ministry, which spearheaded and funded the operation, in cooperation with the U.S. Embassy in Jerusalem and Israel’s Ministry of Public Security.

The firefighters will be here for two weeks, Kofman said, although they don’t yet know where they will be assigned.

Israel has sent firefighters to Ethiopia and Brazil in recent years, he noted. And advisers have come to help with earlier U.S. fires. But this is the first working crew to be sent here.

“It’s an expression of support for the American people and the firefighters working already,” said Kofman. “It’s to show Israel’s strong friendship with the United States.”

And, he added, “it’s also an expression of gratitude for the American firefighters who came to Israel in 2016” to help battle fires that raged across Israel following an extremely dry season.

This week’s operation came about after Kofman contacted the California Governor’s Office of Emergency Services on Aug. 23 to ask how Israel could help with the wildfires. Also, Gov. Gavin Newsom has appealed to Canada and Australia for assistance.

Details of the Israeli help were confirmed Thursday, Kofman said, and the team is scheduled to depart Israel early Sunday morning, arriving in San Francisco the same day.

The timing of their stay is “very symbolic,” Kofman said, pointing out that they will be here on Sept. 11. “This will give them the opportunity to commemorate 9/11 with the American people,” he said.

Sue Fishkoff

Sue Fishkoff is the editor of J. She can be reached at sue@jweekly.com.