Police: Usfiya boy, 14, admits to starting Carmel fire

Carmel area youth tells investigators he panicked when large fire ignited after he hurled water pipe charcoal into open area.

December 6, 2010 17:52
3 minute read.
Trees on fire near Usfiya

Trees fire Usfiya 311. (photo credit: Channel 10 News)


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A 14-year-old resident of Usfiya was arrested on Monday on suspicion of throwing a piece of charcoal from a water pipe into a forest clearing near the village on Thursday morning, witnessing the ignition of a large fire and running away.

Police suspect the boy’s actions led directly to the Carmel forest inferno.

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The youth confessed to the allegations against him and reenacted his suspected actions on Monday, police added.

After seeing the flames grow out of control, the boy became panicked, “ran back to his school [in Usfiya], and did not report the fire to anyone,” police said.

The boy will appear before the Haifa Magistrate’s Court on Tuesday morning for a remand hearing.

Coastal Police spokesman Mor Inbar told The Jerusalem Post that four additional Usfiya youths had been questioned in recent days in connection with the water pipe incident. They included two brothers, aged 16 and 14, who were arrested on Sunday. The brothers were released by the Haifa District Court on Monday after Judge Avraham Elyakim accepted an appeal by attorneys representing them, against a decision by the Haifa Magistrate’s Court to keep them in custody until Wednesday.

Elyakim noted that police suspected the minors of causing death through criminal negligence, but added that the suspects’ young age represented a mitigating factor in the suspicions against them.

“There is no disputing the trauma caused by the fires to many people, but we should not place a national disaster on the shoulders of two minors,” Elyakim said in his decision on Monday.

Two additional minors were detained for questioning – though not arrested – by officers from the Coastal Police subdistrict’s central unit on Monday and released, before the 14-yearold suspect was put under arrest.

In a related development, police arrested a 32-year-old Arab resident of southeast Jerusalem’s Silwan neighborhood on Monday afternoon after they caught him lighting a tree on fire in northern Jerusalem, near Ammunition Hill. He allegedly caused a small fire.

Police and firefighters arrived and quickly controlled the fire. No damage was reported.

Police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said a total of four suspects around the country had been arrested in recent days on suspicion of deliberately setting smaller fires.

Two suspects were arrested in the Jerusalem area, and two more were arrested in Acre for alleged arson attacks.

Rosenfeld said that “over 20 smaller fires around the country” that had broken out since Thursday were suspected to be acts of arson.

All of the smaller fires were put out by firefighters and did not cause injury.

A day after the last of the Prisons Service members who burned to death in their bus near Kibbutz Beit Oren on Thursday were buried, police said a full examination was under way to determine what could be learned from the tragedy. However, a police source added that no decision had been made about an investigation committee.

According to police, the bus, driven by 48-year-old David Navon – who was posthumously recruited into the Prisons Service on Monday – tried to turn around on the narrow, single- lane highway connecting Beit Oren junction to Atlit, after screeching to a halt in front of a wall of fire.

As the flames engulfed the vehicle from both directions, desperate Prisons Service staff members tried to flee the bus, and most ran straight into the flames.

The bus was accompanied by police cars containing Cmdr. Lior Boker, Dep.- Cmdr. Itzik Melina and Haifa Police chief Asst.- Cmdr. Ahuva Tomer, all of whom died of burn-related injuries.

Parents of two victims from the Prisons Service, Roee Biton and Hagai Jerno, came forward on Monday to accuse the authorities of failing to prepare staff members by sending them on a mission to evacuate the Damon prison without the means to defend themselves against a fire. The families told Ynet that they did not blame the Service for the tragedy, but rather “those who were responsible for putting out the fires, evacuating homes and closing off roads.”

A police source added, “Obviously, this tragedy will be examined from all directions, from the intelligence to the operational level.

Lessons will be learned. An incident of this scale cannot go by without being examined in detail.”

Melanie Lidman contributed to this report.

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