plane carmel fire.
(photo credit: Associated Press)
The Carmel Mountain Range blaze was under better control on Sunday morning, Fire Chief Shimon Romah told Army Radio. While saying that this was the best state the fire-fighting teams had found themselves in since the blaze began on Thursday, he added that only cautious optimism should be exercised as fires still raged.
In a statement on Sunday morning, Boaz Rakia, spokesperson for the firefighters, said that although there was a hope that the fires would be under control by Sunday night, it would still be a number of days before all the fires were put out. The Carmel blaze has scorched over 12,000 acres (50,000 dunams), killed 41 people and injured scores.
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than thirty fire-fighting aircraft resumed operations early on
Sunday morning, and prepared to drop fire-fighting materials and water
on the four remaining areas of fire in Israel's North. Among the aircraft was the Evergreen Supertanker aircraft that landed in Israel overnight, expected to take flight around lunchtime. The privately owned US Boeing 747, the largest fire-fighting aircraft in the world – landed at Ben-Gurion International Airport and was set to make its first flight over the
fire at around 6 a.m, a senior IAF officer said. The plane can carry 80 tons of
water and fire retardant.
night, the Israel police predicted that the fire, the worst in
the country’s history, would hopefully be brought under control if not completely
doused by the end of Sunday.
The expectation was that the blaze, which has ravaged 50,000 dunams
(12,500 acres) in and around the Carmel Mountain Range and killed 41 Israelis, would be largely defeated with the arrival of the last of 33
aircraft dispatched to the emergency effort by countries from around the
“Our assessment is that we will be able to put
out the worst of the fire by Sunday afternoon with 33 planes that will be here
from around the world,” the IAF officer said, although emergency personnel have
cautioned that new fires may continue to emerge over the coming few
As the sun set on Saturday evening over the scarred and still
burning Carmel mountains, police and firefighters took cautious satisfaction in
significant progress that had been made after some 60 hours of relentless battle
against the monstrous inferno.
But with fire-fighting planes unable to
fly at night, new blazes continued to erupt into the night. Forces took up
defensive positions around Haifa, Usfiya and other communities, while hoping
that the nocturnal winds would not undo all of their hard work.
key developments took place over the weekend. All 41 casualties of the
fire were identified by forensic officers at the L. Greenberg Institute for
Forensic Medicine at Abu Kabir, and a series of funerals were held. More will
take place on Sunday.
The majority of the dead were Israel Prisons
Service staff who were burned alive in their bus near Beit Oren on
The dead also included two policemen who had tried to assist
the bus passengers, named as Ch.-Supt. Yitzhak Melina, 46, and the Northern
District’s Operations Branch manager Dep.-Cmdr. Lior Boker, 57. He was
posthumously promoted to Asst.- Cmdr by Police Insp.-Gen. David
The body of Elad Riven, 16, of Haifa, who was a volunteer in the
Fire Service and had rushed to assist at the scene of the tragedy, was also
identified. Haifa police chief Dep.- Cmdr. Ahuva Tomer remained in
critical condition at the Rambam Medical Center.
Police arrested two
brothers from Usfiya, aged 14 and 16, suspected of having started the blaze by
failing to douse a bonfire around which they had been playing and smoking on
Thursday morning. The pair are suspected of negligence rather than deliberate arson. Arson is
suspected at several other points where fires have erupted since the initial
blaze took hold.
By Saturday night, more than 17,000 people had been
evacuated from 15 communities, and five million trees had been destroyed, police
A fleet of international assistance aircraft from Russia, Greece,
France, Bulgaria, Britain, Italy and Turkey flew sortie after sortie over the
flames, dropping large quantities of water and fire retardants, before returning
for more runs. On the ground, besieged firefighters managed to beat the fires
back from Nir Etzion, Ein Hod, Haifa’s Denya neighborhood, and the Tirat
The progress soon found expression in a police
directive allowing residents of Kfar Galim, Kibbutz Hahotrim, Moshav Magdim,
Denya and Tirat Hacarmel to return to their homes. Ein Hod, Nir Etzion, Ein
Chud, and Yemin Orde remained off limits though.
Police also reopened
Route 4 to traffic in both directions. Some homes in Ein Hod and Nir
Ezion were savaged by the fires, while other evacuees returned to homes that
were left unscathed.
Soon after nightfall Saturday, firefighters
spokesman Boaz Arkia told The Jerusalem Post that the fire remained active in
the eastern section of the mountain ridge, around Usfiya, Daliat al- Carmel,
Beit Oren and a wildlife reserve.
“We are now focused on defending the
communities here. Tonight is very problematic for us because the winds are
changing direction and will become stronger. We must wait until morning to
reassess the situation,” Arkia said. “We hope to get real control in the next 48
hours,” he added.
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s lease of the
Evergreen supertanker – the only fire-fighting plane capable of operating during
nighttime – could just break the balance in favor of the firefighters when it
arrives, Arkia said.
“We can see the fires rage at night in real time,
but now we can’t do anything about it. When this plane comes into
service, things will change.”
Arkia said fire crews remained dedicated
and enjoyed high morale despite severe exhaustion.
“We’re working in
shifts to allow them some respite – they are, after all human beings. But we are
fully committed. “We don’t break so easily,” he said.
The IDF increased
its involvement over the weekend, coordinating the arrival of dozens of foreign
airplanes and helicopters.
Starting Friday morning, the air force began
receiving the foreign aerial support that had been sent to Israel and dispatched
air traffic control officers to the command center set up at Haifa University to
coordinate relief efforts.
The IAF is expecting additional aircraft from
Switzerland, Russia, the Netherlands, France, Azerbaijan and
“The IDF is concentrating its efforts with the other
fire-fighting forces,” Chief of General Staff Lt.-Gen. Gabi Ashkenazi said on
“Today, we are all firefighters,” he added.
from Bulgaria were sent to the Home Front Command’s training base, from which
they will depart for specific missions. The Association for the Well-Being of
Israel’s Soldiers opened its vacation village in Givat Olga to other volunteers
who had come from overseas to assist in efforts to put out the Carmel
On Friday night, shortly after midnight, four Border Policemen were
hospitalized for smoke inhalation, but were said to be in good condition. The
officers were encircled by flames as they accompanied three fire trucks near Ein
Hod. The beleaguered forces were led to safety by a police helicopter flying
Throughout the day on Friday, fires threatened Usfiya, Bet Oren
and Nir Etzion before being beaten back. Police expressed exasperation after
members of the public ignored directives and returned to their homes after being
evacuated – forcing officers to return and evacuate them once more, using force,
and sometimes handcuffing the residents to lead them away in Beit Oren and
A stream of onlookers also created a dangerous nuisance for
police, interfering with the work of emergency services and endangering traffic
on Route 4, where several drivers pulled over to watch and photograph the flames
In Atlit, residents were told on Friday to close their windows and
turn on their air conditioners to avoid smoke inhalation. The fires
threatened to engulf the Ya’arot Hacarmel hotel in the mountain ridge, though
the structure emerged largely unharmed.
Meanwhile, as criticism mounted
at the poor state of the Fire Service following years of neglect, Public
Security Minister Yitzhak Aharonovitch hinted that the service would soon come
under the auspices of his ministry in a centralized manner.
service will not continue in its present form, and will be revised,” a ministry
statement said. “In recent weeks...the minister examined plans to bring
the service under his authority, though it is too soon to discuss this now. The
issue will be examined when the fires are out.”
State Comptroller Micha
Lindenstrauss told State Control Committee chairman Yoel Hasson that he intends
to submit to the committee a report on the condition of Israel’s fire-fighting
capabilities and the performance of government ministries regarding the
According to a statement issued Saturday evening by Hasson’s
spokesman, the MK would then be able, based on Lindenstrauss’s report, to
implement a clause in the State Comptroller Law that allows him to independently
appoint a State Commission of Inquiry to examine the government’s performance
regarding the Fire and Rescue Service.
A senior officer from the Home
Front Command said that the IDF and Defense Ministry had been aware “for years”
of the deficiencies in Israel’s Fire and Rescue Service.
According to the
officer, the shortages in the fire service’s resources were apparent during the
nationwide civil defense exercises – called Turning Point – that Israel has held
annually since the Second Lebanon War in 2006.
“The fact that there are
problems with the fire service is not new and needs to be dealt with,” the
Gil Hoffman and JPost.com staff contributed to this report.