Israeli fire under control after four days

By Rami Amichai

TIRAT CARMEL, Israel (BestGrowthStock) – Firefighters brought a four-day-old forest fire that killed 41 people under control on Sunday and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government faced calls for officials to be sacked.

“We have gained control of the fire, I say this with a restrained smile…people have given their all to get to this moment but you can’t have a real smile on a day like this,” Israeli fire chief Shimon Romach said.

But the fire could flare up again, fire services spokesman Boaz Rakiya said.

Earlier, politicians and pundits demanded the resignation of some officials for their failure to quell the inferno that killed mainly prison officer trainees who were going to evacuate 500 inmates to safety from a jail on the edge of the forest.

The flames also engulfed 12,000 acres of woodland, destroyed millions of trees and gutted dozens of homes.

Criticism also came from inside Netanyahu’s fractious ruling coalition.

“We need to take stock nationally as to how we as such an advanced sophisticated state achieved such a resounding failure,” Welfare Minister Yitzhak Herzog of the center-left Labour Party told Army Radio.

Most critics targeted Interior Minister Eli Yishai who oversees the firefighters.

Many demanded that Yishai, of the ultra-Orthodox Shas party, a pivotal coalition partner in Netanyahu’s government, resign for inadequate preparation of the firefighting system, which has not been able to bring the blaze under control.

“In a proper country, after such a failure you simply go home,” said Yaron Dekel, host of a popular Israel Radio talk show, pointing the finger at both Yishai and Romach.

Netanyahu convened his cabinet on Sunday in Tirat Carmel, a fire-stricken town, and pledged to rebuild the area quickly.

Ministers approved an initial special emergency aid package of 60 million shekels ($16.5 million).

GLOBAL AID

A global effort to help Israel contain the fires went ahead, with Germany, Switzerland and Azerbaijan expected to join a dozen other nations that have sent in firefighting equipment.

Rakiya said 34 aircraft were helping to fight the fire, including a Boeing 747 Supertanker that arrived from the United States early on Sunday.

By far the biggest aerial firefighting weapon, it flew over the Carmel forest, pouring some 21,000 gallons of water and spraying reddish flame retardant over the fire.

Residents of the Haifa area were urged to shut their windows and avoid contact with smoke or the retardant suspected of causing several people skin irritation, media reports said.

Help from unexpected quarters came from the occupied West Bank, where Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas dispatched three firetrucks and crew to the Haifa area.

Abbas expressed condolences to Netanyahu for the Israelis killed in the fire on Thursday, most of whom were guard trainees in the area to evacuate 500 inmates from a prison.

In contrast, Ismail Haniyeh, the Islamist Hamas leader in the Gaza Strip, a territory partly blockaded by Israel, said the fire was “a punishment by God” against the Jewish state.

Netanyahu asked the state comptroller to investigate “the preparedness and handling” of the fire, a statement from his office said on Sunday.

A Haifa court ordered two teenagers suspected of starting the blaze through negligence held until Wednesday. Both were accused of having failed to extinguish a camp fire which police believe led to the conflagration.

(Additional reporting by Maayan Lubell in Jerusalem and Nidal al-Mughrabi in Gaza)

(Writing by Allyn Fisher-Ilan and Ori Lewis)

Israeli fire under control after four days