Fire Damages Roof of the Israel Museum

The roof of the building's youth wing was set alight before firefighters were able to control the blaze.

The Israel Museum in Jerusalem. Photo: DeAgostini/Getty Images.

A forest fire that broke out at the Valley of the Cross in Jerusalem on Sunday grew rapidly, spreading to the nearby Israel Museum, causing it to be evacuated.

After the fire broke out in the valley at around 12:40 p.m., it was fueled by high winds and soon reached the museum. The roof of the Ruth Youth Wing for Art Education was set alight and partly damaged. The building provides art studios, activities, and a library for over 100,000 schoolchildren each year.

Museum officials confirmed to the Israeli press on Sunday that there were no casualties and none of the objects in the collection were damaged. A museum spokesperson told Artnet News the youth wing’s roof was only “slightly” damaged but the museum and its treasures remain safe.

The museum is the country’s largest cultural institution, housing around 500,000 works ranging from prehistoric to contemporary art, as well as an extensive archaeology collection. It is also home to the Dead Sea Scrolls, a group of ancient Jewish manuscripts that date back to the third century B.C.E. The grounds feature an art garden designed by Isamu Noguchi, featuring works by Henry Moore and Pablo Picasso as well as site-specific commissions by Mark Dion, James Turrell, and Micha Ullman.

The local fire and rescue authority deployed firefighting crews and aircraft to bring the blaze under control shortly before 4 p.m. The Israel Police confirmed the incident and told Artnet News that the cause of the fire is still being investigated.

According to The Times of Israel, recent unseasonably high temperatures have lead to dryness in the region, which may have been a contributing factor to the blaze; arson is also being investigated as possible cause. It cited the Kan public broadcaster as a source that claimed investigators had found “at least three locations from which the fire is believed to have started.”

Some news sources also noted the museum’s proximity to the Knesset, the unicameral parliament and legislative authority of Israel. Both buildings are bordered by the Valley of the Cross, where the fire started.

Fires have also broken out elsewhere in Israel, most notably in the northern region of Kiryat Shmona, a city near the border with Lebanon that has been evacuated. The severe, fast-spreading bushfire was, according to reports in Israeli media, started by rockets launched from Lebanon by the militant group Hezbollah. By Tuesday morning, the Fire and Rescue Services said they had mostly controlled the fire. Around 11 locals have been treated for light smoke inhalation.

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