When the fire in Zichron Yaakov broke out shortly before noon on Tuesday, the town’s teenagers were all in school. “I was just starting a test in literature,” recalls Aaron Prais, 17. The Prais family made Aliyah from Birmingham and Aaron, his three brothers and a sister all grew up in Zichron.
“Somebody saw the smoke through the window, and we saw it was on the other side of the mountain.” As decorum dissolved in the classroom, Aaron received a photo on his phone via Whatsapp. “My friend send me a photo of my house. Behind my house there were just flames. We all just sat there at school getting all these messages.”
Aaron’s brother, Josh, 18, was at home on leave from the army. When the electricity cut out, he checked the news and saw that the fire was encroaching on their neighbourhood of Horesh. Suddenly the phones were out too.
“I called my mum,” Aaron says. “I was sitting in school and getting updates on the news. I called Josh but he didn’t answer. That was really worrying. Then Mum said Josh had managed to get out.”
Aaron tried to cycle back towards his house. “I just felt it wasn’t happening. When I got to my street I just saw it was packed with firefighters.”
The Bloom-Bar-Kat family was also caught up in the confusion on Tuesday lunchtime. Ilan Bar-Kat is a volunteer police officer who stayed behind to help the victims.
His wife Lisa Bloom evacuated with their four sons and the dog, Jade. “When we left our house, I was sure we’d never see it again,” says Lisa, who originates from Dublin and works as a corporate storyteller.
Curled up on the couch at their cousins’ in Netanya, and wearing an assortment of borrowed clothes, the Bloom-Bar-Kats know they’ve had a lucky escape.
Their house has suffered smoke damage but is otherwise intact. Lisa hopes they will be allowed back by the weekend.
The Prais family was not so lucky. Their home is one of the most severely damaged in the town.
The top two floors have been destroyed completely; the ground floor is flooded. The tightly-knit Zichron community has rallied round and lent them a vacant and undamaged house a short distance away.
What will Aaron miss most from his old home? “I remember tons of things we did there. A lot of memories. My brother’s room most of all.”