Massive fire continues to rip though Israel

Massive fire continues to rip though Israel

By | 2010-12-04T03:34:00-04:00 December 4th, 2010|News|0 Comments

Ongoing international request for help

The massive fire ripping through northern Israel was still incinerating swathes of land on Saturday, with little sign that Israeli and foreign firefighters were winning the battle to contain it.

With 41 people dead and more than 17,000 people evacuated from their homes, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu sought to bring in more international forces to join those already working to battle the biggest inferno in Israel’s history.

Police said the fire had destroyed homes in three areas overnight: Ein Hod, Nir Etzion and Yemin Hod, all of which had already been evacuated.

As dawn broke, dozens of fire-fighting aircraft resumed work, including a Russian aircraft capable of dropping 42,000 liters (9,22D gallons) of water at a single pass.

There was no indication as to when the firefighters were likely to gain control over the blaze, which is raging through a nature reserve near the northern port city of Haifa.

However, late on Friday, Chezi Levy, spokesman for the Haifa fire service, said the fire was being brought under control in some areas.

"The fires are dying down everywhere except in the southern front where the flames are still high and remain strong, which is where we are concentrating our efforts."

He said an investigation had ascertained where the fire began, but its cause was still unclear.

Israeli police chief Dudi Cohen said the fire was still a formidable force.

"At this moment it cannot be said that the fire is under control, not yet," he said. "I really hope that the fire will be under control by tomorrow (Saturday) evening but we still have a lot to do.

International help

The largest fire in Israel’s history has scorched more than 7,000 acres (2,800 hectares) of drought-stricken land, destroyed houses and exposed severe shortcomings in the country’s ability to tackle such an emergency.

The blaze took hold early on Thursday and Israel launched an international appeal for help just hours later when it became clear its own ill-equipped fire service could not cope.

At least 16 countries swiftly heeded the call, including Turkey, which put aside diplomatic differences to send two firefighting planes.

"I think this symbolizes an unprecedented response to our request for international help," Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said after chairing an emergency cabinet meeting.

"Our firefighting measures cannot provide an answer to forest fires of this magnitude, especially in the face of such winds," he told his security cabinet on Friday.

Netanyahu’s office said that the premier was continuing to seek aid from abroad.

In a phone call overnight, U.S. President Barack Obama promised to send 45 tons of fire retardant and other assets to combat the fire.

He said the United States would also send 12,000 liters of class A foam, as well as a team of experts with equipment, White House aide Ben Rhodes said.

The Pentagon is also mobilizing National Guard troops and assets equipped with targeted fire-fighting systems.

And U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon offered to mobilize international help.

"This is a terrible tragedy," Ban said in a letter to Netanyahu which was released by the Israeli mission.