Background: ‘You’ve never seen such flames’

Even within the first half hour, there were fears that the Carmel fire could turn into the biggest blaze in Israeli history.

December 3, 2010 08:16
2 minute read.
A BLAZE ravaged the Gamla Nature Reserve on May 27

Gamla fire 311. (photo credit: Osnat Eitan)

The massive fire in the Carmel region, which was still raging uncontrollably at press time, began in the Haik Forest next to Usfiya at 11:30 a.m. JNF/KKL firefighters and Israel Fire Department firefighters rushed to the scene.

Even within the first half hour, there were fears that this could turn into the biggest blaze in Israeli history as winds blowing out of the east were causing the fire to spread quickly. And, in fact, what started with a small force of firefighters battling a local blaze quickly became a national catastrophe in a few short hours.

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The firefighters rapidly called in planes to help fight the blaze but to no avail. It spread fast and rescue personnel began evacuating the nearest communities – first part of Usfiya, then part of Daliat al-Carmel.

By evening, the entire Carmel regional council area had been evacuated and several of the houses at Kibbutz Beit Oren had gone up in flames. There was no official decision to evacuate Haifa, but some residents were preparing to flee – packing essential belongings in their cars or getting on the road to safer ground farther south.

The dry weather and heavily forested area provided much dry tinder for the flames. By 6:30 p.m. 6,000 dunams (600 hectares) had been destroyed and tens of millions of shekels of damage caused, according to KKL estimates. The Haik Forest is managed by KKL.

Authorities did not believe the fire would be brought under control until Friday afternoon at the earliest. Firefighters from abroad had already started to arrive in Israel to help put out the titanic blaze.

“You’ve never seen such flames. They were 40 to 50 meters high and traveling several hundred meters a second,” Fire Department spokesman Hezi Levi told Channel 10.

MK Ayoub Kara, who lives in Usfiya, rushed back to his home. “Every tree here has a story,” he said. “This is the area that connects Usfiya, Daliat al-Carmel, Haifa and the kibbutzim and moshavim. If this was indeed a terror attack to wipe out that history, then they should execute the perpetrator for treason like they did Adolph Eichmann,” he declared.

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