Comptroller: Fire report exposes serious failures

Steinitz calls document "delusional and absurd."

February 10, 2012 02:23
4 minute read.
Burnt trees after the Carmel Fire

Burnt trees after the Carmel Fire 311 (R). (photo credit: Reuters)


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State Comptroller Micha Lindenstrauss sent the final draft of his detailed report into the Mount Carmel fire to ministers and senior officials on Thursday.

He instructed them to file their responses within two weeks.

Lindenstrauss also warned once again that his report would “expose serious failures that require immediate correction.”

The state comptroller said he had sent copies of the report, which is titled “The Carmel Fire December 2010 – Omissions, Failures and Conclusions,” to everyone who has been audited, including Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz, Interior Minister Eli Yishai, Public Security Minister Yitzhak Aharonovitch and Defense Minister Ehud Barak.

Steinitz said the draft report was “delusional and absurd in the most extreme manner.” He and Yishai have faced heavy criticism for the lack of firefighting resources at the time of the blaze.

Senior police, Prisons Service, fire services, Home Front Command and Israel Parks and Nature Authority officials also received a copy of the draft report, and one has been sent to the attorney-general, Yehuda Weinstein.

Lindenstrauss said that after the State Comptroller’s Office has received responses from all those audited, he will compile the final report and release it to the public.

The Mount Carmel forest fire in December 2010 claimed the lives of 44 people, among them 37 Prisons Service cadets and their commanding officers, who died when their bus was engulfed by flames.

The blaze caused widespread damage to land and property, totaling million of shekels. An estimated 1.5 million trees were destroyed.

Thursday’s announcement comes after Lindenstrauss sent an initial draft of the report to ministers and officials last August.

He said his office prepared the final draft after receiving responses from all those who had been audited in the report. Many of those audited also attended a hearing at his office, Lindenstrauss said.

The state comptroller said his report focuses on six key issues: the events of December 2, 2010, the first day of the fire, from the morning until after the bus tragedy; security services’ preparedness for emergency situations; prevention of forest fires; the firefighting services; local government and Interior Ministry preparedness for fires and their functioning during the fire; and failures of those ministers responsible, including in previous governments.

In a statement on Thursday, Lindenstrauss noted that in his previous reports, including regarding the Second Lebanon War, his office has “warned repeatedly about the dangers to the state and its citizens of failures in firefighting.”

Lindenstrauss’s full report into the Carmel Fire also comes after he dubbed the Fire and Rescue Services in a previous report the “weak link” in emergency readiness and said that ministerial responsibility lay with Interior Minister Yishai.

Yishai welcomed the report, because it found no connection between the bus tragedy and the minister. A spokesman for Yishai claimed the report indicated that he was the only minister in the last 20 years who tried to help the firefighters and that he tried dozens of times in the year and a half he was in his post before the fire to lobby on their behalf.

But the spokesman said the report also contained many factual errors leading to wrong conclusions. He said Yishai would work to make sure the mistakes are fixed.

Yishai’s biggest problem with the report was that it indicated that he should have quit when he did not obtain the funds he tried to get for the firefighters.

“This would lead to dangerous instability,” Yishai said. “Having so many resignations of ministers would harm democracy and lead to chaos in the government.”

Shas’s Yom Leyom newspaper accused Lindenstrauss of ethnic bias. “They chose Yishai because he is a haredi [ultra-Orthodox] Sephardi,” the newspaper claimed.

“He was the easiest sacrifice.”

In January, Hebrew language press reports said that in his report, Lindenstrauss may recommend that Yishai and Steinitz be dismissed from their respective posts. Sources who read leaked copies of the report said that the state comptroller is not expected to call for Yishai and Steinitz to resign, but may recommend they be transferred to different government positions, so that they may remain in the cabinet.

Also last month, Channel 2 reported that Lindenstrauss told the families of those who died in the fire that criticism would be “directed at ministers” in the report.

“The first movers are always the ministers who are at the top of the pyramid,” he said in a recent meeting with bereaved families, according to a recording revealed by Channel 2, and cited the Israeli saying, “Blame the guard at the gate.”

Lindenstrauss warned that whoever refused to carry out his recommendations would be put “in a very difficult situation” with the public and would face a disciplinary punishment. “I don’t think they should mess with us,” Channel 2 reported.

A team of 30 auditors, led by deputy director-general of the State Comptroller’s Office Boaz Aner, have worked around the clock on the report, Lindenstrauss’s office said. The report’s length directly correlated with the “scale of the disaster and its serious consequences” and it reveals “a long series of blunders and failures, the tragic outcome of which is that the fatal fire in the Carmel – which took a toll of unprecedented magnitude – was not avoided,” the State Comptroller’s Office said in August.

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