A firefighter surveys the damage from a fire in Haifa.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Despite the relative calm, firefighters are still patrolling Haifa’s streets, remaining on a 24 hours on/24 hours off shift instead of the usual 24 on/48 off work schedule.
“Right now everything is a bit calmer, there are not a lot of fires, just hot spots, nothing we can’t handle,” Haifa firefighter Eitan Ripps, 37, told The Jerusalem Post by phone from one of the city’s fire stations on Saturday. “It is not easy, it has been a lot of days away from home – not seeing the family kids – but you know, we’ll get through this together.”
According to Ripps, who has been in the line of duty for 13 years, the recent fires were the most dangerous he has seen.
Fires in Israel
“The last time it was the 2010 [Mount] Carmel [forest] fire but even the oldest firefighters, who have been here for 40 years never saw anything like what happened [last week],” remarked Ripps. “It is not like a forest fire, everything was inside the city.”
A Haifa fire department spokesman told the Post that the biggest challenge was dealing with the scale of the urban fire.
“It makes a big difference because when you are dealing with protecting lives it is obviously a much bigger challenge than protecting trees,” he said.
Tel Aviv firefighter Yaakov “Grizzly” Guttman, 32, who spent the week fighting fires in Zichron Ya’acov and in Sha’ar Hagai, west of Jerusalem, was recovering on Saturday night after a grueling week and preparing to go back on call on Sunday.
“I felt a huge sense of honor. I never faced anything this size, everybody pushed their limits,” said Guttman, who worked an almost 72-hour shift. “Seeing five- or seven-meter high flames and knowing that if this gets past you it is going to hit citizens and civilians – I felt a huge sense of honor.”
For Guttman, the greatest challenge was keeping in contact with his wife, who is due to give birth in two weeks.
“My phone went completely dead for a few days,” he said. “You want to be with your family and your friends, but you also have a massive responsibility to the people and to the country.”
Fire and Rescue Authority spokesman Yoram Levi told the Post on Saturday the fires have been largely extinguished.
“Basically it is over,” he said, adding “we are preparing ourselves for a few more days with extreme weather conditions.”