Famed smokejumper helped fight Israeli fire

Famed smokejumper helped fight Israeli fire

31 Dezember 2010

published by seattletimes.nwsource.com

USA — A storied Twisp smokejumper added another adventurous firefighting accomplishment to his résumé in early December when he flew to Israel to help douse that country’s most disastrous forest fire.

Bill Moody, 71, updated Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on the firefighting strategy and later received a personal thank you from Netanyahu for his help to end the Mount Carmel fire. The fire claimed at least 44 lives, caused the evacuation of more than 17,000 people and burned 12,000 acres of forest in northern Israel from Dec. 2 to 5.

Moody, a U.S. Forest Service smokejumper for 33 years and later manager of the North Cascades smokejumper base in Winthrop, is a firefighting consultant for Evergreen International Aviation’s Boeing 747 Supertanker. The airplane is the largest airtanker in the world. It can drop up to 20,000 gallons of water and retardant on fires, nearly twice the capacity of the next largest airtanker and eight times the capacity of planes commonly used to fight forest fires.

Moody flew with the 747 from a base in Tuscon, Ariz., on Dec. 3. He directed two 20,000-gallon drops on the fire Dec. 4 that helped bring the fire under control. Moody said Netanyahu flew in to Ben Gurion International Airport in Tel Aviv in a helicopter under heavy guard Dec. 4 after the airtanker’s second retardant drop.

Netanyahu talked to Moody about the use of retardant and the strategy that was used to run a retardant line around the perimeter of the fire. “He asked a lot of questions and thanked us for our work. He asked me how my Hebrew was and I had to answer, ‘not good,’ ” Moody said. The prime minister visited with them for about an hour, Moody said. “He’s a very impressive man who commands a lot of respect. He was very well briefed on the fire.”

The Mount Carmel fire spread quickly through Israel’s Carmel Hai-Bar Nature Reserve. The area is close to the Mediterranean coast between Tel Aviv and Haifa.

Israel put out a call for international help after a busload of prison guards, en route to evacuate a prison in the area, caught on fire. News reports said the fire claimed 44 lives in all. Nearly all of the victims were on the bus. Many others were injured.

Eleven countries sent help. The fire was controlled Dec. 5, thanks to the airtanker drops, international help and a change in the weather. The fire is believed to have been started by an illegal garbage fire, dry weather and strong winds, according to news reports.

Moody started working for the Okanogan National Forest as a smokejumper right out of high school in 1957. He parachuted into fires for 33 years and managed the North Cascades Smokejumper base from 1972 to 1989. His 610 fire jumps was once a record. He continues to work for the Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest as an air-attack-group supervisor. He wrote a book about the history of smokejumping, “Spittin’ in the Wind.”

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