JERUSALEM (JTA) — A monument to the 44 people killed in last year’s Carmel forest fire was unveiled at a memorial ceremony.
Hundreds of family members and friends of the victims gathered in the Carmel Forest near Kibbutz Beit Oren for Monday’s ceremony. The monument is sited near the road where fire trapped and burned a bus carrying cadets from the Prison Service sent to evacuate prisoners from the path of the blaze on Dec. 2, 2010.
Thirty-six cadets, a commander and a driver died in the bus. Two firemen and a 16-year-old volunteer also died in the fire, which took nearly four days to control.
"The entire nation witnessed the giant flames, and the entire nation feels your pain, but only those who have experienced grief can comprehend the intensity of your pain," Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in an address to the relatives of the victims.
"I know that you will never be fully consoled, but some comfort can be found in the legacy of heroism the victims left behind and in the spirit of volunteer work and the great dedication they displayed in the face of fire as they went out to save lives. Comfort can also be found in the fact that the entire nation of Israel recognizes this legacy," Netanyahu said.
Some 250 homes were destroyed or severely damaged, 17,000 people were forced to evacuate, more than 12,000 acres were burned and an estimated 5 million trees were lost in the fire.
"The country was caught unprepared to deal with a natural disaster of this magnitude," Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin said.
Some relatives of the fire’s victims refused to attend the ceremony, saying no one had claimed responsibility for the country’s inability to deal with the blaze.
Netanyahu originally had declined to participate in the ceremony, citing his workload, but reversed course a day later.