A large fire has been raging since Saturday at a plastics factory in the Caesarea industrial park halfway between Tel Aviv and Haifa.
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Two workers have suffered light injuries as firefighters attempt to extinguish the blaze. The police have told residents of nearby communities Pardes Hannah, Ein Shemer and Gan HaShomron to remain in their homes and close their windows and shutters. The nearby Pal-Yam intersection has been closed to eastbound traffic.
Fire Commissioner Shahar Ayalon is employing 56 teams and six planes to handle the blaze. Firefighters from the nearby city of Hadera entered the plant to search for any people trapped inside but were forced to exit for fear the building would collapse – which it later did.
The fire crews ordered the evacuation of all adjacent factories amid concerns that the fire would spread. Both a cardboard factory and an oxygen-and-argon facility are located nearby. Firefighters have sprayed the cardboard plant’s fuel tanks with water and are taking similar measures around the oxygen plant.
Earlier in the week it was Haifa Bay that suffered fires: a three-day blaze at an unauthorized waste dump and a fire stemming from a malfunction at the Carmel Olefins petrochemical plant. The blaze at Carmel Olefins on Wednesday lasted for hours.
“I was in the area and smelled sharp odors,” said Liora Amitai, an environmental activist at the Coalition for Public Health.
Carmel Olefins is part of the company Oil Refineries, also known as Bazan, which operates a refinery and petrochemical complex. The plant produces the gas ethylene, which is required in the production of plastic.
“Water is routinely used before the raw materials reach the tower. A malfunction caused the water to freeze and plug up the system,” said Shlomo Basson, the Oil Refineries deputy chief executive in charge of safety and environmental protection. “We needed to redirect the gases to a device that burns them up. This is a safety measure for such cases.”
Amitai of the Coalition for Public Health fears that toxic substances were released into the air during the fire.
“The Haifa Bay area is a national failure,” she said. “The owners of these facilities ride roughshod over public interests of health, safety and minimum living standards, conducting business as if 800,000 people weren’t living nearby.”
During the Carmel Olefins fire, the Haifa Bay environmental association ensured that no black smoke was emitted. The levels of various airborne pollutants were constantly monitored.
The association’s monitoring devices, however, can only track some pollutants, not all the ones likely to be emitted during a malfunction at a petrochemical plant. Carmel Olefins is required to submit a report to be studied by the association and the Environmental Protection Ministry. Basson, the Oil Refineries deputy CEO, says the bad odors did not originate at Olefins but at the waste-dump fire.
That fire, which lasted from Thursday to Saturday, took place at an unauthorized garbage dump near Haifa’s sewage treatment plant, in an agricultural area belonging to Kibbutz Yagur near Nesher.
The blaze occurred in deep layers of garbage that were inaccessible to water from above. Firemen and kibbutz members removed some of the top layers of garbage while spraying water to keep the temperature down, as the refuse emitted toxic fumes.
At first the smoke drifted toward the Nesher area but over the weekend shifted toward Kfar Hasidim and Rechasim. The Haifa Bay environment association monitored the level of pollutants.
When levels rose, the ministry issued alerts; throughout the week pregnant women, children and the elderly were instructed not to engage in physical activity outside their homes.
The fire was finally extinguished Saturday and the remaining garbage is being removed. Uri Chibotero, a spokesman for the fire services, said crews had worked around the clock, changing every four to five hours.
“A lot of water was required, so to conserve resources, some gray water from the sewage treatment plant was used,” Chibotero said. “The whole operation was very expensive, costing hundreds of thousands of shekels to cover water, equipment and man-hours.”