Fire in Northern Israel Nearly Under Control


(JTA) — The fire raging in northern Israel which has destroyed thousands of acres of land and claimed the lives of 42 people is nearly under control, Israeli officials said.

During a special meeting Sunday in Tirat HaCarmel, a community evacuated Thursday hours after the fire broke out, Internal Security Minister Yitzhak Aharonovitch told the Cabinet that "we are at the final hurdle."

Israel’s firefighting efforts are being assisted by 35 airplanes, 24 from other countries in the region, including the American "Evergreen" Boeing 747 Super Tanker, which arrived Sunday morning and was immediately put into action with its 80,000 liters of water and fire retardant.

During Sunday’s meeting, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called on the government to cut through bureaucracy in an effort to rebuild homes, towns and businesses damaged in the fire. The Finance Ministry announced at the meeting that it would budget $16.5 million to provide infrastructure for the rebuilding effort. The government gave the ministry a week to come up with a rehabilitation plan.

Also Sunday, two teenage brothers from the Druze village of Ussifya arrested on Saturday on suspicion of starting the fire were ordered held for four more days by a Haifa court. The teens are accused of lighting a bonfire near their home Thursday morning which sparked the blaze. Police Commissioner Dudi Cohen told reporters that incidents of arson had occurred at several locations on Friday.

Meanwhile, funerals were held over the weekend across the country for the prison guard cadets killed when their bus trapped Thursday by burning trees was engulfed in flames burring alive all of its passengers. The guards were enroute to a nearby prison to carry out an inmate evacuation. Two firefighters who rushed to rescue the guards and a 16-year-old volunteer were also killed in the bus incident. All of the bodies were identified, many using DNA technology, by Saturday night,

At least 17,000 Israelis were evacuated from the area of the blaze, which spread close to Haifa. The University of Haifa, which was evacuated on Thursday, has served as a staging ground for emergency personnel.

Aid has poured in from countries as close as Turkey, Cyprus and Greece and as far as the United States and Russia. Police Commissioner Dudi Cohen told reporters that incidents of arson had occurred at several locations on Friday.

Since the blaze began, Israelis have been gripped by images of flames consuming forested areas in the mountains east of Haifa, residents watching their homes burn and footage of the scorched shell of the bus in which the prison guards were killed.

(To donate to the fire relief effort, click here.)