JERUSALEM (Sep. 8)
Fourteen months after a forest fire destroyed more than 3,200 acres of woodland in the forested hills near Jerusalem, another blaze has claimed an additional 500 acres of forest and several buildings in the kibbutz of Kiryat Anavim.
Complaining about the poor response to last Friday’s fire, kibbutz residents and others living in the affected area outside Jerusalem are leading a vociferous outcry against what they describe as the negligence, apathy and inefficiency of the firefighting services.
They claimed that the report and recommendations of a blue-ribbon inquiry committee set up to study the disastrous July 1995 fire have been largely ignored.
According to a preliminary investigation, last Friday’s fire began in the Arab village of Abu Gosh when wind carried the flames from burning garbage.
As the fire spread, black smoke engulfed the area and reached the main Tel Avivlerusalem highway.
Thirteen people required medical attention for smoke inhalation, but there were no serious injuries.
Interior Minister Eli Suissa has ordered a new inquiry — both into the weekend blaze and into the apparent failure of the authorities to learn the lessons of last year’s fire.
President Ezer Weizman, in a grim-faced visit to the scene Sunday, urged the air force to purchase special firefighting planes and hold them in readiness for such events.
A former air force commander, Weizman said the Israel Air Force’s Sikorsky helicopters, which lug large tubs of water from nearby reservoirs and dump them over a blaze, are by no means the most advanced airborne firefighting technique.
But most of the residents’ criticism was directed at the ground-based fire services, headquartered at Beit Shemesh, at the foot of the Jerusalem hills.
Kiryat Anavim residents claimed it took hours for the fire officers to appreciate the strength of the spreading blaze and to call up fire-engines from Jerusalem and elsewhere.
“They could have stopped it when it was still small,” kibbutz member Chava Abrahams said, surveying the charred wreckage of her mother’s home.
Meir Wiesel, chairman of the Mateh Yehuda regional council, charged that “none of the recommendations made after last year’s fire was carried out in practice.”
These recommendations included beefing up firefighting services in both material and manpower, cutting wider safety swathes through forest tracts, and maintaining better watch for fires, especially during hot weather.
The village hardest hit in last year’s fire was Shoresh. This time, its inhabitants sought to offer shelter and comfort to those forced out of their homes in Kiryat Anavim.