Saturday, December 4, 2010
Firefighters weaken Carmel fire, fear winds could intensify flames
Fire still rages in four sites in Carmel; firefighters concerned that firefighting aircraft cannot be used at night, when winds strengthen the flames.
Firefighting crews managed to tame part of the flames raging in the massive brushfire that was still burning across the Carmel Mountains on Saturday evening, though some were wary that the situation could take a negative turn overnight.
The massive fire, which has been burning since Thursday, has claimed 41 lives and destroyed nearly 50,000 dunams of land in the Carmel region. On Saturday evening, it was still raging in four areas: Har Shokef, Nir Etzion, the Carmel Hai-Bar Nature Reserve, and Isfiya.
Firefighting and rescue services were worried Saturday that all the efforts they have put in battling the flames during the day would be worthless once nightfall hit and the strong winds would intensify the blaze.
Firefighting crews said on Saturday evening that the fire has weakened, though the situation is likely to change overnight due to the inability to use most firefighting aircraft during the night hours.
"Though we are careful using the word 'control', we do see some weakening of the flames," said Boaz Rakia, the spokesperson of the Israeli firefighters association.
He added, however, that the situation could change at night. "I say this carefully because the winds could intensify overnight."
The firefighting aircraft which were sent by various foreign countries to aid Israel in extinguishing the blaze can only be used in daylight, and at night strong winds strengthen the fire and cause it to spread again.
17,000 Northern residents have thus far been evacuated from their homes as the wildfire has raged out of control in the Carmel hills south of Haifa, Israel's third largest city, since Thursday morning.
After a situation assessment of police and firefighting crews on Saturday, it was decided it was safe to send residents of a few towns back to their homes. The towns cleared for safety were: Kfar Galim, Kibbutz HaHotrim, Megadim, Tirat Hacarmel, and the Denya neighborhood of Haifa.
Authorities are closely monitoring wind directions and are preparing for the possibility that the fire will spread to additional locations. Buses have been moved into to positions that will allow for additional evacuations if necessary.
Police forces arrested Saturday two brothers from the Druze village of Isfiya who are suspected of being responsible for the act of negligence which started the massive fire.
Detectives believe the brothers lit a fire near their home in the western part of Isfiya which spread and ultimately set the entire Carmel ablaze.
Israel Police Spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said that the investigation into the fire, which has burnt down thousands of acres of forest and prompted the evacuation of 17,000 people, was continuing.
He said despite foreign firefighters helping to battle the blaze, it was still out of control in tracts of northern Israeli forest.
The death toll from the blaze reached 41 on Friday. Most of the victims had perished in an incident on Thursday involving a bus carrying members of a Prison Service guards' course who were heading to the Damon jail in order to help evacuate inmates.