Major Wildfire in Israel

Major Wildfire in Israel

02 Dezember 2010

This 250m resolution satellite image by the MODIS instrument shows the smoke plume
rising from Mt. Karmel, Israel during today’s afternoon hours.
See two news reports and ground images further down.
Satellite image source: NASA Aqua satellite, selected by GFMC

40 dead as huge brushfire rages through Carmel Mountains
Firefighters: We lost all control of the fire; Netanyahu turns to allies for help; bus evacuating some 50 prison guards gets caught in the flames, killing 40.

Update 14:58 02.12.10

By Fadi Eyadat

A huge brushfire was raging across the Carmel Mountains near Haifa on Thursday afternoon, resulting in the death of some 40 people and hurting dozens of others, among them prison guards and firemen.

Firefighting crews were still battling with the flames into the evening hours and expressed no hope of controlling the fire soon.

“We lost all control of the fire,” said the Haifa firefighting services spokesman on Thursday. “There aren’t enough firefighting resources in Israel in order to put out the fire,” he said.

The 40 individuals who died were students in the Prison Service’s prison guard course who were being brought to the Damon Prison to aid in evacuating the prisoners there.

According to an initial investigation of the events, a tree fell down in the middle of the road the bus was taking, trapping the bus between the flames. As a result, 40 of the 50 prison guards who were on the bus died from the flames. Seven individuals were evacuated from the scene in serious condition and transferred to Haifa hospitals.

Firefighting forces have been working without success on putting out the flames since the afternoon hours on Thursday, trying to battle the massive blaze which has already burned down at least 7,000 dunams of natural forest.

Magen David Adom Director General Eli Bin defined the fire as “the worst disaster in Israel’s history.”

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Thursday requested the help of the U.S., as well as Greece, Italy, Russia, and Cyprus to send additional forces to aid in putting out the huge brushfire that was still raging in northern Israel.

Netanyahu said of the tragic fire, “We are recruiting all of the country’s resources to stop the fire and take care of the wounded. I spoke with Public Security Minister Aharonovitch and asked the police to make every effort, and from the Defense Minister to put the whole IDF at our disposal,” Netanyahu said.

“This is a difficult hour, and we will need to learn lessons for the future, but at this moment, our only thoughts are to save lives and protect the forces that are dealing with this catastrophe,” Netanyahu added. “I believe they are doing an outstanding job.”

“Today, our hearts are in Haifa, with the firefighters that with incredible courage are battling the flames; some of them have even been injured, along with residents of the area.” said President Shimon Peres. “We are praying for a miracle. We are praying for their safety. We are praying for the fire to end.”

A large force of rescue workers were initially called to the scene to evacuate hundreds of homes and close off traffic on neighboring roads, and the power supply was cut off in the areas of Isfiyeh and Daliyat al-Karmel.

The villages of Isfiyeh and Beit Oron were evacuated in the early afternoon, as was the neighboring Carmel Forest Hotel and Carmel Farm, as easterly wind blew the flames across the mountain rage.
“This large fire has spread due to strong winds,” Haifa District Police Deputy Superintendent Ahuva Mishne told Israel Radio. “The winds are blowing in the direction of the sea, so there is no real concern for the [nearby] villages.”


Update 18:02 02.12.10

Haifa mayor says ‘flames spread on a scale we’ve never seen’

Haifa mayor Yonah Yahav spoke of the massive fire in the Carmel Region on Thursday, saying that “the flames spread on a scale we’ve never seen.” In an interview with Army Radio, he added that “all emergency forces are on the highest alert, and we have established a safe area for evacuees; I hope that we won’t have to use it.”

Hila from Tivon who works at Beir Oren related what had transpired. “We were informed that we must evacuate the area where groups of people had come for a day of recreation. We saw the fire approaching us, we evacuated the workers, waiters, and ourselves. As we left, we were told that a house at the edge of the village had already burned.”

Fire in Carmel Mountains

Fire in Carmel Mountains. Photo by: Yaron Kaminsky

Shai, who lives in Beit Oren, said that his daughter was enjoying herself at the stables. “They left of their own accord in the direction of Atlit.” According to S., there was an argument between the police and firefighters over whether to evacuate the entire area, because they didn’t know what direction the fire was moving in.”

Shai added, “The firefighters asked for an evacuation, but the police gave an order not to evacuate. In my opinion, the police made a bad decision in handling the crisis, it seemed like a small deal at first.”
Yael from Haifa, who takes care of one of the horses on the kibbutz, shuddered as she spoke of people that she knows that were still stuck in the kibbutz and were unable to leave.

Yael said, “A friend of mine that worked with the horses called me and told me that there’s a large fire and that they might need to evacuate the horses. A few minutes later they decided to evacuate – too late, in my opinion.

Yael said that the workers tried to remove seventy horses towards the west, but the fire approached rapidly. “The people riding on horses escaped on horseback, and the others were left behind.”


Some visual impressions by


Aharonovitch: Still no control of blaze Carmel blaze

Police sources evacuate all residences in neighborhoods of Giora, Rehovot Alon, Habarush; Laniado; over 12,000 residents evacuated.
Public Security Minister Yitzhak Aharonovitch said Thursday that the police still do not have control of the blaze that was raging near Tirat Hacarmel.

Police sources said they had evacuated all residences in the neighborhoods of Giora, Rehovot Alon, Habarush and Laniado.

Over 12,000 residents in the area had been evacuated.


Encroaching Wildfire Forces Prison Evacuation

ISRAELI FIREFIGHTERS ARE BATTLING a raging wildfire today (Thursday) that was first discovered around 11 am this morning. The wind-whipped blaze in the Carmel Forest has blown up to several square miles already and is directly threatening a town and a high-security prison.

The fire command has informed the police to evacuate the Damon prison and all 500 inmates were re-located temporarily at several local jails. The town of Beit Oren was also evacuated and other nearby towns and resort hotels have been put on alert. Update: A second village, Usafiya has just been evacuated also.

Several roads are cut off now and the authorities alerted Haifa University to be prepared for evacuation if it becomes necessary.

There is a strong easterly wind accelerating the fire, but it is also moving it toward the seacoast where hopefully it will be contained.

YNet News is adding:

A police source told Ynet that detectives were probing a lead saying an illegal dumping ground caused the large blaze in the Carmel forest.

Haifa Mayor Yona Yahav visited the site and said authorities had known of the illegal activity for some time. “It was just a matter of time until a calamity occurred,” he said.

There were 15 fire companies working the fire while dozens more are being called to the incident to assist. Air drops have also been initiated.

UPDATE, 11:30 am Eastern: 40 prison wardens burned alive.

A bus carrying 40 prison guards to Damon Prison to assist in the prisoner evacuation was caught in the fast-moving fire and everyone on board was killed when it overran the bus. The Jerusalem Post reports:

The majority of the 40 people burned to death in a bus caught up in the Carmel forest fires were prison wardens en route to the Damon prison. The wardens were meant to assist in the evacuation of some 500 prisoners from the facility, situated near Kibbutz Beit Oren, when their vehicle became engulfed in fast moving flames which had spread to the narrow mountain road linking Atlit to Kibbutz Bet Oren.

A firefighter spokesman said the fire had traveled 1500 meters in less than three minutes, adding, “the bus had no chance. They tried to escape but were burned alive. It was a horrific scene.”

The spokesman added at the fire was very far from the road on which the bus was travelling when it first set off towards the prison, but had spread far faster than expected.

UPDATE #2, 12:40 pm Eastern:

Since our last update, the following has been reported via Yeshiva World:

* The total (unconfirmed) number of people killed has been placed at 51.
* Heavy response was dispatched to Givat Wolfson (recently) for reports of 20 people trapped in a fire. This is approximately 2 kilometers from Beit Oren where the main fire originated. FD reports that the people have successfully been evacuated.
* A senior police official from Haifa – possibly the Chief of Police – has been killed in the fire.
* The IDF has dispatched “D9 Bulldozers” to Northern Israel to assist firefighters in the huge fire in the forests of Mount Caramel.
* Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu spoke to the leaders of Russia, Italy, Greece and Cyprus and appealed to them for assistance in extinguishing the Carmel fire which broke out on Thursday. Netanyahu asked the countries’ to send fire extinguishing planes into the area in order to help Israel contain the fire.
* Under changing circumstances in the Carmel fire, emergency services have decided to evacuate the following communities: Nir Etzion, Ein Hod and Ein Hod. Fire officials state that this fire may take days to bring under control.
* Sources report that the village of Beit Oran has been totally destroyed.
* Greece tells Israel that they have dispatched fire-fighting aircraft to Northern Israel.

UPDATE #3, 2:15 pm Eastern:
A report has come in that three high-ranking emergency personnel are missing at the scene. Also, reports from the fire zone say that there may be as many as 70 people who have perished so far.

Hundreds of IDF (Israeli Army) troops have been deployed to the fire to assist the firefighting and relief efforts. A military command post has been set up, also. Police are talking to witnesses who state that this fire was intentionally started by someone. Additionally, this fire started in as many as four places (unconfirmed….ed.).
UPDATE #4, 7:30 pm Eastern:

Turkey has sent two firefighting aircraft to assist and Egypt has provided five aircraft. Planes from several other countries will begin arriving during the early morning hours of Friday.

More than 10,000 people have been evacuated from their homes. More people have just now been evacuated from one of Haifa’s neighborhoods as the fire shows potential of being capable of moving into the city.
So far 59 bodies have been recovered.


Wildfire engulfs hills above Haifa, killing 42

A major forest fire killed at least 40 people in northern Israel on Thursday, including prison guard cadets trapped in a bus while heading to evacuate inmates, officials said.

Hundreds of firemen, scores of fire trucks and airforce water cannon rushed to the scene in the Carmel hills above the Mediterranean port of Haifa to battle the blaze which raged in strong winds, devouring the wooded slopes. More than 12,000 people were evacuated from towns and villages as the fires threatened hillside homes. Firefighters said it was the biggest forest fire in the country’s history, with some 7,000 acres (2,800 hectares) of land destroyed.

A collective farm in the forest, Kibbutz Beit Oren, was razed. A gutted bus and car that carried the prison guards were all that was left of their prison evacuation mission.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on a visit to the scene by helicopter Israel had suffered a “disaster on a scale we have never seen before”.

“We are harnessing all the forces of the state to deal with this disaster and rescue those who are injured and to stop the fire,” he added.

Patients were rushed out of a psychiatric hospital on the hillside at Tarit Carmel, as sparks flew through the air, igniting trees and tinder-dry brush on the slope above its roofs.


While Europe freezes in an early winter, Israel has had unseasonably hot weather in its driest November in 60 years.

Netanyahu called an extraordinary session of his security cabinet before the weekend to decide further steps and declared a day of mourning for the casualties.

Turkey, despite its strained ties with Israel, was one of eight countries sending aircraft and flame retardants to help fight the flames, Israeli officials said.

Tirat Carmel, near Haifa, was one a dozen towns partially evacuated. Police officers blared orders through megaphones for residents to leave as smoke engulfed the town and spread in great billows above the glowing orange heart of the fire.

“There are a lot of casualties. We are talking of about 40 people,” said Police Minister Yitzhak Aharonovitch, adding that a handful of people were missing in addition to those known to have been killed.

“What is happening here behind us is there’s a fire that is blazing out of control, moving toward the west … It is an enormous disaster,” Aharonovitch added.

Micky Rosenfeld, a spokesman for national police, said two police officers were missing and a senior commander of the Haifa force had been critically injured.

Paramedics said they had found 36 bodies.

Some 500 inmates from the local Damon prison were moved to safety in buses under heavy police escort as the blaze spread.

The fire started around midday, possibly in an illegal dumping ground in the Carmel Hills, Israeli media said.


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