The sight, and smell, of hell on earth

I had been in Haifa to report on an event, was inside of a windowless building from the fire’s beginnings.

December 3, 2010 07:50
2 minute read.
Forest fire

311_forest fire on mountain. (photo credit: Associated Press)

Orion and his belt stood tall in the sky as my silent bus rolled out of Haifa’s Hof Hacarmel station and past the sprawling Carmel fires on Thursday evening, en route to Jerusalem.

Smog clouded most of the night sky as the ever-growing flames created a scene – and a smell – that could really be none other than hell on earth. From miles and miles away, as we traveled down the coastline, the orange flames ate away at a forest whose trails and beauty are a place of respite for so many Israelis and tourists alike. From the window of the eerily quiet bus, I watched it all crumble.

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I had been in Haifa that day to report on an event and was inside of a windowless building from the fire’s beginnings until about 5 p.m., disconnected from Wi-Fi and quite unaware of the horror taking place in our backyard, until the journalist next to me received a worried SMS from a friend. Alarmed, we immediately found an Internet connection and anxiously sought some information.

When my event was over, I went over to a nearby friend’s home as planned, and found her family glued to the television in utter disbelief – that the trees and villages where they had spent so much of their spare time for more than 20 years were now being wiped out before their eyes.

Was it deliberate, they questioned, as reporters updated the carnage totals and the station flashed photos of the overturned bus’s skeletal remains.

It was then that I really internalized just how lucky I was that my own bus to Haifa that morning had passed through the area only about an hour before the disaster had begun.

After a quick family dinner amidst the disarray, and constant phone calls from my friend’s frenzied government office, her father drove me down Mount Carmel from Haifa’s center so I could catch the last bus back to Jerusalem. As we exited the brand new tunnel that cuts through the mountain, he pointed to the skies, and I gasped as I saw the immensity of the hellish scene in person for the first time.

I stepped onto the bus and took a seat, wondering how long the fires would rage on and how many innocent lives would be ruined as a result.

High above, Orion still stood strong, but his image was fading in and out of the smoky sky.

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