Israel battles forest fire, international help pours; 41 dead

Last Updated: Friday, December 3, 2010 - 23:12

Tel Aviv: Israeli firefighters struggled
to put out a massive blaze that has already claimed 41 lives,
as international forces joined in the hapless local rescuers
in controlling the worst ever forest fire in the northern part
of the country.

The first of the 23 international aircraft carrying
firefighters, supplies and fire retardant chemicals landed at
the Ramat David Israel Air Force base after the country`s fire
chief admitted publicly to have lost control over the blazing
inferno.

The firefighters were also battling heavy winds that
are threatening to lead the fire towards the northern port
city of Haifa, that is home to 250,000 people
Mass evacuations continued this morning as dry
easterly winds fanned the massive bushfire towards Haifa after
having engulfed almost 20,000 dunams of pine forest.

Rescuers, who recovered another body today taking the
toll to 41, feared that the number of dead could go up.

The Greek plane, the first of five which are expected
from the country, brought much needed fire retardant supplies
and additional firefighting forces who will join Israeli fire
crews battling the uncontrolled fire.

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev also ordered to rush
special aircraft to help douse the unprecedented wildfires
that had engulfed the Carmel forest.

Russia has rich experience in aerial `bombardment` to
douse wildfires last summer in several regions around Moscow.

"An Ilyushin Il-76 plane, capable of dumping 42 tons
of water on fire hotspots in one swoop, an amphibious Beriyev
Be-200, and a Mi-26 Halo heavy transport helicopter equipped
with a 15-ton water reservoir are leaving for Israel,"
Emergencies Ministry spokesperson Irina Andriyanova said.

According to the Army Radio, in addition to the four
Greek aircrafts, four others are expected to arrive from
France, three from Britain, two from Spain, two from Russia,
two from Turkey, two from Cyprus, two from Bulgaria and one
from Croatia and Azerbaijan each to prevent the fire from
spreading further.

Over 15,000 residents, including 600 prison inmates,
were evacuated as the blaze raged out of control forcing the
fire chiefs to publicly admit it. The situation is said to
have arisen from an illegal landfill site.

Firefighters said the blaze had reached major traffic
artery linking the north with Tel Aviv, but that they had
succeeded in stopping the blaze from spreading further.

Earlier, 40 people were killed when a bus carrying
prison service trainees to assist in the evacuation was
engulfed by fire after a falling tree blocked its path.

Elsewhere, at least two more fire crew were reported
missing, while the Haifa district police chief was among the
injured.

Across the region, traffic crawled to a standstill,
with black smoke and flames visible for miles around.

The blaze broke out shortly before lunchtime and
spread rapidly across the tinder-dry Carmel countryside, left
parched after the hottest November in Israel in 60 years.

One of the first residential areas to be evacuated was
Kibbutz Beit Oren, where all 400 residents reached safety
before the entire collective farm was razed.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said that
evacuations would continue and that authorities would take no
risks where civilian lives were in danger.

"Evacuations will be conducted as needed, with
sufficient advance warning. We do not want any more injuries,"
Netanyahu, who called an emergency cabinet meeting said.

Police also evacuated prisoners from Prison 6 and
Carmel Prison, as well as students in Haifa University
dormitories, who were transferred to a nearby high school.

Some 200 patients from the Tirat Hacarmel psychiatric
hospital were also evacuated.

Netanyahu has admitted that the country is not ready
to fight the fires, the worst since the creation of the
Israeli state in 1948, and requested Russia, as well as
Greece, Cyprus, Spain and some other countries used to
tackling large-scale wildfires, to provide assistance.

PTI



First Published: Friday, December 3, 2010 - 23:12

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