Israel — A draft report by Israel’s State Comptroller into a devastating forest fire that ravaged northern Israel at the end of last year has revealed a series of failures which require immediate attention, a statement from the Comptroller’s office said Sunday.
The draft was submitted to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Interior Minister Eli Yishai, Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz and Public Security Minister Yitzhak Aharonvich, as well as to other relevant officials. They have one month to respond to its findings.
The report focuses on six main areas: the events on the first day of the fire; the firefighting services; forest and bush fire prevention; security in events of emergency; the preparedness of local authorities; and the responsibility of ministers – including those in past governments – for failures and oversights.
Israel Army Radio quoted unnamed ‘sources close to the investigation’ as saying that the final report is expected to be among the most severe State Comptroller Micha Lindenstrauss has issued during his term of office.
The fire, Israel’s worst ever, broke out in early December, on the Carmel hill, south of Israel’s northern port city of Haifa. By the time it was brought under control four days later, at least 43 people had lost their lives, around 80 square kilometres of land and an estimated 5 million trees had been destroyed. Some 17,000 people had been forced to temporarily flee their homes while the blaze raged.
Israel had been been forced to ask for international help to fight the fire, and critics had accused the current and previous governments of allowing the fire to spin out of control because of outdated firefighting equipment.
They also alleged there was a failure to purchase larger firefighting planes and that there was a lower firemen-to-inhabitants ratio than the accepted norm in developed countries – one firefighter for every 6,000 residents, rather than one for every 1,000.
But Haifa University expert Lea Wittenberg also noted that the extremely dry weather conditions when the blaze broke out – there had been no significant rainfall for eight months – meant the fire’s rapid transformation into an inferno was inevitable.