Carmel fire AP 3.12.2010
A firefighting plane drops fire extinguishing material over a fire in the town of Tirat Hacarmel, northern Israel, Friday, Dec. 3, 2010. Photo by AP
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The government could not confirm yesterday whether a new firefighting Israel Air Force squadron would be able to tackle a blaze as large as the deadly Carmel forest fire in December, the worst wildfire in Israel's history.

"That's an assumption that I don't know anything about," Public Security Ministry director general Yaakov Ganot said at a Knesset committee hearing on revamping Israel's firefighting services.

MK Yohanan Plesner (Kadima ) urged Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to upgrade the firefighting services immediately.

In a letter to Netanyahu, Plesner said the Israel Fire and Rescue Services are 169 fire trucks short and that 90 of the existing 347 trucks have been in service for more than 20 years.

"There is a huge gap between your statements on changing the order of priorities regarding the firefighting services and insufficient action," wrote Plesner.

Experts also told the Knesset Interior and Environment Committee that no new firefighters have been recruited since the Carmel fire and that 300 of Israel's 1,900 firefighter posts are unfilled.

Some 100 new firefighters will be trained in a course due to begin in August.