'Despite threats, not enough done for firefighting'

State Comptroller says Israel failed to carry out PM directive to increase aerial firefighting capabilities, in spite of wildfire threats.

Israeli Fire and Rescue Service plane 150 (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
Israeli Fire and Rescue Service plane 150
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
Israel has not done enough to increase the country’s aerial firefighting capabilities, in spite of the growing threat of wildfires, the State Comptroller’s Report stated on Wednesday.
The report slammed officials for not carrying out the directive issued by Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu to do so, especially in light of the many rockets and missiles pointed at both the North and the South, which could lead to widespread blazes.
In a section of the report detailing the founding of an aerial firefighting capability in Israel, the report said that “as clear as the need has been over the years to strengthen the air firefighting system in Israel, recommendations made by the prime minister to make such changes have not been carried out.”
The report – a continuation of the June 2012 Comptroller’s Report on the Carmel fire that detailed glaring failures by Israel’s governmental leadership, as well as police and rescue services – added that since the government made the decision in 2002 to cancel the use of IDF helicopters in aerial firefighting, “not only has the capability to fight wildfires from the air not improved, the ability has weakened, and no meaningful changes have been made.”
Additionally, an aerial firefighting unit founded by the Israel Air Force in May 2011 did not undergo extensive operational examinations by the IAF to gauge its ability to be effectively deployed in event of a wildfire, the report stated.
In terms of commanders of the national Fire and Rescue Services, the report said that “in spite of the threat caused to the home front by future wars, which will include wildfires that break out in a number of different areas, commanders did not carry out situational assessments that took into effect the threats faced.”
The report said that the inadequate response to the issue both before and after the Carmel Fire is against the backdrop of a rising wildfire threat in recent years, due to the rocket threat posed by Hezbollah in the North and Gaza-based terror groups, whose rockets and missiles can set off wildfires when they land in Israel.
The State Comptroller’s Report focused on the period in early 2011 after the December 2010 Carmel fire, when Netanyahu called for the founding of an aerial firefighting capability.
During the Carmel fire, which burned from December 2 to 6, the Fire and Rescue Services was exposed as lacking not only an aerial component, but also up-to-date land-based firefighting equipment. In the end, Israel had to ask for assistance from over 20 countries, which sent firefighters, planes and other gear to assist in putting out the blaze. Most notably, Israel rented the world’s largest firefighting plane from an Arizona-based company, a converted Boeing 747 called the “Supertanker” that was rushed to Israel to help put out the flames.
The report stated that over the years the relevant authorities did not carry out significant examinations of the possible threats posed to the home front by wildfires, and did not put the necessary conditions into place to enable an aerial firefighting capability.
The report found that after Netanyahu tasked the Public Security Ministry and the IAF with developing greater firefighting capabilities in the wake of the wildfire, the IAF lacked professional know-how about aerial firefighting and did not present their findings or recommendations to the IDF or the Defense Ministry.
Across the board, the report stated that the different government bodies charged with handling the issue did not collaborate adequately with one another – and that Israel remains without even an adequate short-term aerial firefighting capability to handle firefighters until a permanent system can be deployed, a process that is expected to take years.
The report also mentioned how shortly after the Carmel fire, Netanyahu tasked Defense Minister Ehud Barak with building the capabilities and gave him a 14-day deadline to come up with a proposal.
The IDF then proposed buying six Bombardier CL-415 firefighting planes at a cost of tens of millions of dollars each, as well as paying NIS 80 million to lease three older Bombardier CL- 215 planes, the report stated.
According to the report, Netanyahu took the recommendations to the Canadian government and requested their help brokering the deal, but was told the purchase couldn’t go through because the Canadians did not have enough planes in stock. After the deal fell through, the IAF recommended Israel purchase lighter, cheaper Air- Tractor planes, which cost only a fraction of the price.
According to the State Comptroller’s Report, it was only the accidental lack of stock of CL-415 planes in Canada that saved an unnecessary expenditure of many millions of shekels.