A massive wildfire which killed 42 people in northern Israel has now been extinguished, emergency officials say. The blaze had required international firefighters and equipment to stem it. Israelis are now asking why their officials weren't prepared and what might be different next time. And many wonder whether the fire has national security implications. Matthew Bell has more.
A host of countries sent help to Israel in the form of equipment and personnel. Firefighters showed up from Bulgaria, Greece and even the Palestinian West Bank. So did aircraft from the US and 9 other countries. Michel Correard and his five-member team arrived from France on Friday night. They directed five French planes that were fighting the fire from above. Today, Correard said the fire is pretty much under control. ï¿½It's not finished, but it's good. It's good. It's a big fire and Israel is a small country. Big catastrophe for Israel.ï¿½
The scale of the catastrophe is starting to become clear. 17,000 people were evacuated from their homes. About 250 homes were lost and more than 12,000 acres of forest burned.
Teachers and staff from the Yemin Orde Youth Village returned today to assess damage from the fire. Many of the 500 students here are immigrants, and some of them are orphans. The students had been evacuated safely but the fire destroyed between 30 and 40 percent of the facility. School official Susan Weijel stood in what used to be one of the student homes. ï¿½What we were hoping is that the kids, the pictures the kids have of their families would have been left, that's what we were hoping. The other thing we were hoping is we have framed here, pictures of kids throughout the years, like a family, like you do. And none of that is leftï¿½, she says.
Israeli military helicopters continued to fly back and forth between Mt. Carmel and the Mediterranean Sea this afternoon. They dumped loads of water on what remained of the worst fire in Israel's 62-year history. Police are investigating what caused the blaze. But a14 year-old boy in police custody has reportedly admitted starting the fire. Authorities say he did so by tossing some burning coals onto the ground.
The Israeli government has been criticized for being unprepared for the disaster. The interior minister is facing calls to step down. Shmuel Rosner is a columnist for the Jerusalem Post. ï¿½Obviously, Israel was not ready for such fires. Fires aren't very common in Israel. We do not have the number of trees that most US states have. But we do need to prepare ourselves for fires and be in better shape.ï¿½
Another prominent Israeli columnist writes that Israel's response to the Carmel fire does not bode well if an attack against the country sparked another fire. After all, the Israelis might not receive the kind of prompt international help during wartime that they received in recent days. There may be an official inquiry into Israel's response to the disaster. Shmuel Rosner hopes it doesn't turn into a witch hunt. ï¿½This whole repetitive notion of putting our politicians so to speak on trial is not only unncecessary but counterproductiveï¿½.
Prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu echoed that sentiment today. He said the Israeli government needs to focus on repairing the damage caused by the fire, not on playing a blame game. Netanyahu said problems with the fire services go back many years. He did promise today, that dozens of families who'd lost their homes in the blaze would receive swift compensation