fire - Alon Ron - December 14 2010
A Turkish plane helps douse the inferno on the Carmel, which shouldn’t be mistaken for ‘strategy’. Photo by Alon Ron
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GPO
Benjamin Netanyahu on a firefighting plane in December 2010. Photo by GPO

The Chim-Nir aviation company, which handles much of Israel's aerial firefighting, warned the finance and interior ministries over a year ago of a "critical shortage" of the chemicals needed to put out forest fires.

In a letter dated October 28, 2009, a copy of which was obtained by Haaretz, CEO David Golan also warned that this shortage could result in "irreversible damage" to the landscape and loss of human life if a fire broke out. Copies of the letter were also sent at the time to the heads of the Jewish National Fund and the fire services, as well as to the attorney general and the state comptroller.

According to both the JNF and the fire services, Golan said the problem was that the treasury's budget division had yet to approve the necessary funding. As a result, the inventory of retardants nationwide had fallen far below the minimum official standard of 200 tons. The delay was particularly unconscionable, he said, because it seemed obvious that the funding would eventually be approved.

"View this letter as a warning that if a disaster occurs here, every one of you will be personally responsible because of your inaction!" Golan concluded.

Thirteen months later, when the Carmel fire broke out, only 15 tons of retardant were available nationwide - a fraction of the official 200-ton standard. That sufficed to enable three planes to battle the fire for all of 20 minutes.

Meanwhile, the supertanker Israel rented from the United States to fight the fire is due to return there only today, after having been parked at Ben-Gurion Airport for the last week.

Like any other jet, the supertanker has to pay parking fees to the Israel Airports Authority for this privilege, and it is not yet clear who will pick up the tab. Nor is it clear why the jet did not leave immediately after the fire was extinguished a week ago.