Lindenstrauss to investigate 1st 4 days of Carmel fire

State comptroller announces that investigation into blaze will look into bus carrying prison guards; Yishai to be called on to testify.

311_Micha Lindenstrauss (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
311_Micha Lindenstrauss
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
State Comptroller Micha Lindenstrauss will conduct a fullscale investigation of the government’s handling of the Carmel Forest fire, which erupted on December 2 and claimed the lives of 44 victims, he announced on Sunday.
“According to the state comptroller’s decision, the examination will primarily focus on the four days of the incident,” his office said in an official announcement. “We emphasize that other aspects which occurred either before or after the incident will be examined as required.”
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Lindenstrauss said he would look into the details surrounding the destruction of a bus carrying dozens of prison service cadets to Damon Prison to help evacuate prisoners, and the functioning of the Fire and Rescue Services, the police, Magen David Adom, the army, the Defense Ministry and the local authorities.
It will also look into the question of Israel’s aerial firefighting capability, including the element of international cooperation.
The investigation will also focus on the Finance Ministry, the National Fire-Fighting Commission, which is under the auspices of the Interior Ministry, and the organization of the firefighting services.
Last month, Lindenstrauss released an extremely critical report on the issue of Israel’s firefighting capacity as a follow- up to a report he had published in the wake of the 2006 Second Lebanon War. The research and writing of the report was completed months before the outbreak of the Carmel fire, although Lindenstrauss reworded and toughened some of his conclusions just before publication as a result of the fire.
Meanwhile, Danny Rozen, the partner of Haifa police chief Ahuva Tomer, who died trying to extricate cadets from the burning bus, sued Interior Minister Eli Yishai and the state for damages, claiming that they were negligent in protecting the population from fires, such as the one that killed Tomer.
“This lawsuit is aimed at state officials and office-holders who were irresponsible and left the state and its citizens exposed to the danger of a fire whose likes had never been seen before,” he wrote in the lawsuit. “This was criminal neglect which lasted years. The government ignored and turned a cold shoulder to the basic security needs of Israel’s citizens to a degree which cried out to heaven.”
Last week, Rozen spearheaded a protest during a ceremony at Beit Oren for bereaved families who lost loved ones in the fire, forcing Interior Minister Eli Yishai to leave the auditorium where the ceremony was being held.
Rozen announced at the time that he was launching a campaign to force Yishai, who is ministerially responsible for the firefighting services, out of office.
The lawsuit is part of that effort.
Rozen wrote that “he thought seriously about whether he should file this lawsuit, which is so charged with hard and bitter memories. In the end, in spite of the desire to repress and forget the traumatic events and incidents, it was decided to submit the suit to cry out in a loud voice those cries which the leaders of the country must hear, absorb and act upon. To our sorrow, and as is well known, they ignored the signs and did nothing.”
In a related development, the High Court of Justice on Sunday ordered the government to respond to petitions filed by two watchdog organizations, Ometz and the Movement for Quality Government, demanding the establishment of a state commission of inquiry to investigate the government’s handling of the fire and the events leading up to it.
According to Ometz’s petition, an independent commission of inquiry is necessary to “look into the failures which led to the harsh outcome of the incident, to clarify the failures in the handling of the event in order to determine who is personally and ministerially responsible for the failures and prevent their recurrence.”
Justice Asher Grunis gave the state until January 20 to submit its preliminary response to the petitions.