(JTA) – Ten volunteer firefighters from the United States are in Israel to help battle the blazes sweeping across southern Israel caused by arson kites and balloons sent from Gaza. The firefighters arrived in Israel and went to work Aug. 2 alongside Israeli firefighters and soldiers. They have been dispatched to the cities of Sderot, Ashdod, Askelon and Netivot. Thousands of acres of farmland and natural forest have been consumed in the flames sparked by the flying firebombs, which Gaza Palestinians have used as a tactic beginning since mid-March as part of border protests that have turned violent. The firefighters are in Israel under the auspices of The Emergency Volunteers Project, which trains and deploys to Israel volunteer emergency responders including fire, medical and community assistance. The project – one of three that have received funding from the Jewish Federations of North America to help deal with the recent wave of incendiary kites and balloons – includes volunteers in over 50 cities in 10 U.S. states.
On Aug. 1, U.S. Ambassador to Israel David Friedman traveled to the Gaza border area to meet with the American and Israeli firefighters. That day, at least four fires broke out due to the arson balloons. Fifteen fires were reported on Aug. 2. The firefighters are from Baltimore, Maryland; Plantation and Hollywood, Florida; Fort Worth, Texas; and Los Angeles.