Three meters. That was the difference between life and death for Prisons Service
cadets whose bus was engulfed by fire as it raced to help evacuate Damun Prison
inmates when the Carmel forest blaze erupted on Thursday.
and the choices made in split seconds amid unimaginable horror.
Analysis: The impotent 'if only' of our northern
Comment: A member of the family of nations
Radio on Sunday, Ruti Gondani, whose daughter Sigal was one of the handful of
the officers on the bus to make it out alive, “met” over the airwaves with Roni
Sofer, the Yediot Aharonot photographer who rescued her. And their conversation
underlined what Ruti called Sigal’s “miraculous” escape, and the hair’s breadth
that separated her daughter from the tragedy that befell almost 40 of her
Sofer, who had been out taking photographs all that day,
found himself in the Beit Oren area. Looking for fresh angles from which to
photograph the spreading blaze, he inadvertently found himself driving into
As he drove forward, believing himself to be far from the fire’s
focus, he said, his car was being followed by a vehicle from Beit Oren and then
by the car driven by Lior Boker, a police officer who was soon to die in the
blaze. After a journey of a few hundred meters, said Sofer, the prisons service
bus also joined the convoy, followed in turn by the car of Haifa police chief
Ahuva Tomer, who is now in critical condition in the hospital, having been
terribly burned in the blaze.
“The road was completely clear,” said
Sofer, but then, seconds later, the winds changed, “and a wall of fire blocked
the road... We all reversed.”
But the flames and the smoke were
everywhere, Sofer recalled.
Gondani said her daughter Sigal had told her
that the bus driver opened at least one of his vehicle’s doors and the prison
guards scrambled to try to escape. “Someone got out ahead of her,” she said of
“Her friend was with her. She didn’t even know where she was
What saved Sigal, said her mother, was that amid the flames,
“she followed the road.”
Many of the other victims evidently ran into the
Sigal ran forward along the road amid the flames and,
along with two other guards, happened to come across Sofer and his jeep. “You
saved my daughter’s life,” Gondani told Sofer over the radio.
“It was a
split-second decision,” said Sofer.
“You saved yourself and three
others,” Sigal’s mother said. “It was a miracle.”
Sofer said he had an
instant in which to decide what to do – whether he could do anything to save the
people on the bus, whether to drive on, which way to head.
Sigal, who spent Sunday going from funeral to funeral of her dead colleagues,
had shouted at Sofer: “Drive.
Drive through the fire. Drive through the
And he did. “The difference between getting out and dying was
three meters,” he said.
“People three meters behind us were
Dan Amir, a local photographer who saw and photographed the
tragedy unfolding beneath him from a nearby hillside, said Sunday that the walls
of fire were “dozens of meters high.” The blaze, he said, “was racing faster
than any human can run. They didn’t stand a chance.”
Saved from the
blaze, Gondani said, her daughter watched the ambulances racing in toward the
stricken bus and waited to see her colleagues being brought out for medical
treatment. “She kept asking, ‘where are they? Where are they?’” said her mother.
But there was no one to save.