ikea - Nir Kafri - February 6 2011
Firefighters battling the flames at IKEA’s Netanya branch yesterday. Photo by Nir Kafri
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A massive fire all but destroyed IKEA's local flagship store in Netanya and its contents yesterday. Company officials said they hoped to rebuild and reopen the store within a year. A joint police-firefighting team is to investigate the cause of the fire, which is thought to have started on the building's roof early yesterday morning .

Eighty firefighters belonging to 32 units battled the flames for 10 hours until the fire was brought under control. Company executives, including IKEA Israel CEO Shlomi Gabay, arrived on the scene and watched as the store and attached warehouse burned down.

The initial investigation is focusing on the possibility that the blaze began with an electrical short circuit in a control room on the eastern side of the building's roof, and spread by means of the tar covering the roof, into the structure itself. The burning tar then ignited the furniture and bedding displays on the second floor.

At this point firefighters believe the fire alarms operated properly. The fire alarm alerted a controller working in the store's computer room, as well as the Netanya fire station. The store's emergency doors shut, but apparently the burning tar that had already entered the building combined with yesterday's stiff winds overwhelmed the sprinkler system.

Police blocked roads near the store in the vicinity of Netanya's Poleg Interchange, a major intersection along the coastal road, one of only a few north-south traffic arteries in the country.

Public Security Minister Yitzhak Aharonovitch arrived at the scene and spent a considerable amount of time in an effort to learn about the fire and its causes. "A great deal of damage was caused to the building, but the most important thing is that no one was killed or injured in the fire," Aharonovitch said.

"All the possibilities are open. We must find out what failed, what went wrong," Netanya Fire Chief Yitzhak Shilan told Haaretz yesterday, "Was the automatic sprinkler system in good order, did someone forget something in the kitchen, was there a short-circuit?"

Ironically, one of the areas in the building that sustained the least damage was the cafeteria.

Gabay appeared to be in shock as he circulated among IKEA Israel senior executives at the scene. "It's not easy to watch, this is definitely a very sad day," he said. "It's too early to comprehend what happened, and we will study the events. We have 400 workers, our employees, and we will take care of them until the store reopens," Gabay said.

Many employees came to the scene after hearing about the fire. "I feel like I want to cry," said Asher Bar, who has worked in the warehouse since the day it opened. "It's been my home for 10 years, I love this job and the people here, and to watch the place go up in flames kills me. I don't know what to do tomorrow morning. I am counting on the chain to help us at this difficult time, and together we'll do everything we can for the branch to reopen soon."