Benjamin Netanyahu fire - Gil Eliyahu - 2.12.2010
Benjamin Netanyahu during a briefing on the Carmel fire, Dec. 2, 2010. Photo by Gil Eliyahu
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In an emergency cabinet meeting assembled in Tel Aviv on Friday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu thanked the nations sending forces to aid Israel in a large-scale brushfire, which had already cost the lives of 41 people.

In his short address, delivered minutes before he was due to travel to the sight of the Carmel fire, Netanyahu thanked Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan for sending fire-fighting aircraft to aid Israel in it's battle against the conflagration.

Turkey's sending of two fire-fighting planes comes as its relations with Israel have deteriorated in recent years and reached a low point last May when nine Turkish citizens were killed as Israeli naval commandos boarded a Gaza-bound aid flotilla.

The PM also thanked Greece for sending four fire-fighting aircraft, adding that Israel was not equipped to deal with the type and magnitude of blaze, which has been ravaging the area around Haifa for 24 hours.

Other countries sending aid to arrive at Israel later Friday support included Cyprus, Egypt, Jordan, France, U.K., Croatia, Russia, Spain, and Romania. Overall, more than 20 fire-fighting planes are expected to arrive in Israel, with New York's fire department also agreeing to send a firefighting airplane to Israel.

Forty-one people died, and 15,000 residents, including 600 prison inmates, were evacuated as the blaze raged out of control, devastating hundreds of acres of pine forest before sweeping down the slopes of the Carmel plateau towards Israel's third largest city.

Early Friday morning the blaze spread into Tirat Carmel on the eastern slops of the Carmel Ridge. Residents were evacuated from their homes, and were asked to refrain from returning to the area without explicit police authorization.

New outbursts of fire were located near Isfiya, the Carmel prison and around the Nir Etzion, a communal settlement situated south of Haifa.

Earlier, 4,000 residents of the affluent Haifa district of Denya were evacuated from their homes late Thursday night. Later, it seemed that the fire had subsided in the Denya area, and that the neighborhood had weathered the storm, with security forces issuing a reevaluation of that situation as the fire again spread toward the Haifa neighborhood.

A number of neighboring countries dispatched firefighting aircraft to help tackle the blaze, the first of which were expected to reach Israel at around 7:00 A.M.

Earlier, 40 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.

Two firefighters and a policeman were also among the dead. 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.

 

At around 4:00 A.M., local time, firefighters warned of the possibility the blaze would reach Highway 4, a major traffic artery linking the north with Tel Aviv, with those predictions proving true later in the morning.

At around 10:30 A.M. on Friday morning the fire had swept its way to the farther coastal Highway 2, forcing police to close one of Israel's busiest roads between Zichron Yaakov and Haifa. The Road was reopened 30 minutes later.