Update 21:20: 42 people are already known to have been killed and 6 injured in the huge fire on Mount Carmel, which broke out at 12:30 today. Hezi Levy, a spokesman for the firefighting service in Haifa, said the fire was the biggest in Israel's history. "We have completely lost control of the fire," he said. "I call on all 1500 firefighters in Israel to contact their units and come to the fire in an orderly fashion. The fight for the Carmel is now a fight for Israel." He added that "Currently, the State of Israel has no firefighting material. It's all finished."
The fatal casualties are prison officer cadets from the center of the country who came to the area to assist in evacuation efforts at Damon Prison. 22 bodies of the cadets have been identified with certainty. The cadets were travelling in a prison service bus that became trapped in the flames. The commander of the firefighting service said on Galei Tzhahal (Army Radio) "Kibbutz Beit Oren went up in flames; all except a few houses have been burned to the ground."
A police vehicle was in the area carrying three police officers. Two of the officers are currently described as missing. The third, Commander Ahuva Tomer, is in critical condition. Preliminary enquiries indicate that the police vehicle was in the vicinity of the bus that was burned, and was caught in the fire trap. Apparently, the police officers tried unsuccessfully to escape.
Israel has officially requested assistance in gaining control of the fire from Russia, Greece, Italy and Cyprus. President Dimitris Christofias of Cyprus said that Cyprus would shortly send its only firefighting helicopter to the Carmel, to participate in efforts to quell the fire. In addition, Netanyahu agreed with his friend the Prime Minister of Greece, George Papandreou, that he will send several firefighting helicopters to Israel.
Three more settlements have ordered the evacuation of their residents: Nir Etzion, Ein Hod, and Ein Hud.
The prime minister told Galei Tzahal (Israel Army Radio), "This is the worst disaster we have ever known. We are harnessing all the forces at the state's disposal to deal with the disaster, to rescue those who are trapped, and to bring the fire under control. I have spoken to the minister of defense, who will make available all of the IDF's capabilities to assist in evacuation and in controlling the fire. All forces are working superbly, heroically, and with dedication and responsibility, and their task is still before them."
The cause of the fire is not yet known, but a long drought has left unusually dry conditions in the Carmel Forest, so that the fire spread extremely quickly.
The fire has forced the evacuation of hundreds of residents. 25 Fire and Rescue Service teams evacuated residents of Beit Oren and Carmel Mountain Spa. The Israel Prison Service is also readying to evacuate employees and prisoners from the Damon Prison with the help of the Israel Police and Border Guards. The prison holds 500 security prisoners and illegal immigrants.
Firefighters are using planes to fight the blaze. Inspectors and staff of the Israel Nature and National Parks Protection Authority are on site, after announcing emergency procedures. Inspectors from all over the country have been called in to help fight the fire and evacuate animals from the Hai Bar Nature Reserve on Mount Carmel.
The Ministry of Health has warned residents in the area of the University of Haifa, Beit Oren, Isifiya, and the Horev Center to stay indoors for fear that hazardous materials are burning. The University of Haifa has been evacuated as a precautionary measure, not because of danger to students, according to the Fire Service.
Israel Electric Corporation (IEC) has asked residents of Isifiya and Daliyat Hacarmel not to use electricity consuming appliances, in order to reduce the load on the local grid, after power lines in the area were severed.
The fire broke out at 12:30 pm in pine and cedar forest near Isifiya.
Published by Globes [online], Israel business news - www.globes-online.com - on December 2, 2010
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