Few can resist the lure of a crackling bonfire in the dark. Children certainly can’t. Tonight, Wednesday the 9th of May, fires will go up in empty lots, parks, and beaches all over Israel. On Mt. Meron, hundreds of families have already gathered near the tomb of Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai, camping in nearby fields and forests and building high stacks of old furniture, wooden boards, and whatever else will burn.
Up to 400,000 people are expected to visit the site over today and tomorrow. It’s Lag B’Omer (see this post with an explanation of this Jewish holiday).
It’s a holiday enjoyed by religious and secular Jews. Families look forward to exhilarated dancing around the flames, sing-alongs that last all night, and potatoes roasted in the embers. Yet because of carelessness around the fire, children are at risk. Hospitals around the country treat hundreds of children’s burns, splinters, injuries from exploding nails, and even scorpion and snake bites, every year.
Air pollution goes sky-high on Lag B’Omer, too, as housewives hastily pulling laundry off lines can tell you. The smoke and wisps of burned stuff blowing throughout neighborhoods make everyone close windows and turn the air conditioning on. Apart from the dramatic increase of particles in the air, celebrants outdoors may inhale toxic fumes from burning plastic and other materials in old furniture set aflame. In a report to the Jerusalem Post, the Israel Nature and Parks Authority raised another worry: beach fires may endanger sea turtles that lay their eggs on beaches at this time.
Dry winds are predicted for tonight, and there’s plenty of flammable dry vegetation around. Bonfire supervision is more crucial than ever. With the disastrous Carmel Forest fire still fresh in memory, it’s a good idea to go over some common-sense precautions:
- Make a small fire instead of the usual huge one.
- Or get together with neighbors to build one fire instead of each family making their own.
- Inspect the materials meant to be set on fire and make sure that there are no boards with nails embedded, plastic, asbestos, or other potentially toxic materials.
- Outfit kids with closed shoes to prevent puncture wounds or insect bites (spiders and scorpions come out in the dark).
- Give everyone plenty of drinking water to prevent dehydration.
- Lay a circle of large rocks around the intended bonfire area to contain the fire.
- Have ready to hand a first-aid kit and an old blanket for covering stray fire. If someone’s clothing catches on fire, roll him/her in the blanket and call an ambulance. If no blanket available, roll him on the ground.
- Memorize emergency phone numbers. In Israel: Fire department 102. Ambulance: 101. Police: 100.
- Bring a bucket of water to put the fire out completely when it’s time to go home. Or make a pile of sand near the fire ahead of time, to throw on it till it’s out. Stir the ashes with a stick to make sure there are no more live embers.
Traditional Lag B’Omer activities include nature walks and hikes, picnics in parks, and games with play bows and arrows for the little ones. All of them are safer, greener alternatives to bonfires. But if you can’t persuade your kids to give up their bonfire, be there to supervise their safety or appoint a responsible teenager to do the same.
More cautionary tales of fire on Green Prophet:
Image of bonfire with potatoes roasting via Wikipedia.