Conflagration came within meters of historic church.
The fire began Saturday, possibly by accident by someone from a nearby village. Franciscan Fr. Ricardo Bustos, superior of the community of friars at the basilica, said it has not rained in months, so the conditions are extremely dry and hot. On Sunday morning, it got up to about 110 degrees, he said in an interview Monday.
“The fire started two days ago in the village Um Al-Ghanam [or Shibli, south of the basilica]. With the winds, the fire started up the mountain,” Fr. Bustos said. “Sunday morning it got to about 400 meters [1,312 feet] from the convent, and in 20 minutes it reached us. But the firemen were here from 6 o’clock in the morning, and a firefighting plane arrived. They arrived very quickly and took control of the situation.”
After getting the fire under control, firefighters proceeded to clean the burned area, to prevent flare-ups, the priest said.
On his Facebook page, Fr. Bustos, a native of Argentina, on Sunday appealed to friends for prayer.
“We are all fine, thank God, and our lives are not in danger,” he wrote in Spanish. “Let us hope that with the help of God, of our Mother, the Virgin, and of St. Francis, whom we ask to tame ‘Brother Fire,’ we can successfully complete this test. It certainly hurts us that when hectares of forests are burned, nature is destroyed, but in this case we do not think it is something intentional, rather, due to the high temperatures that are above the norm.”
Fr. Bustos said forest fires are a regular danger at this time of year. In July 2019, he and his fellow friars were evacuated due to a similar fire on Mt. Tabor (photo, above). No one was hurt.
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