Comptroller to Criticize Israel Emergency Services' Handling of Carmel Blaze

Report expected to castigate then Police Northern District Commander, Shimon Koren, and his successor Commander Roni Atia, then coastal sub-district commander.

State Comptroller Michal Lindenstrauss is expected to level harsh criticism at the performance of high-ranking police and Prison Service officers on the first day of the Carmel fire last December, sources familiar with the report due to be published next month said.

Barring changes, the report is expected to castigate the Police Northern District Commander at the time, Shimon Koren, and his successor Commander Roni Atia, then coastal sub-district commander.

carmel fire report - Michal Fattal / Itzik Ben-Malki
Michal Fattal / Itzik Ben-Malki

The report is also expected to focus particularly on the police's aerial unit commander, Noam Adar. A highly respected officer, Adar was one of the two helicopter pilots to arrive at the fire area.

Adar began carrying out observation activity and reported to the forces on the ground about the fire's spreading. He transmitted constant reliable reports to Commander Shimon Koren on the fire's spreading and the pace of the vehicles evacuating Damon Prison.

The State Comptroller's staff, probing the events in the dramatic minutes preceding the disaster, found that at midday Koren had told Adar to continue his assignment and concentrate on observing the road to Beit Oren.

The comptroller's staff wanted to find out why Adar, contrary to his commander's instructions, decided to leave the flaming site for seven crucial minutes, during which there was no aerial observation of the fire. Later it transpired these seven minutes were fateful to the Prison Service cadets in the bus, who lost their lives shortly afterward on that road.

The comptroller's staff learned Adar wanted to land the helicopter near Haifa University so that former Fire Fighters Commissioner Shimon Romah, who was with him in the helicopter, could get off.

The material obtained by the police and comptroller's staff indicates Adar should have remained above the fire site, mainly due to the fact that his was the only helicopter in the area in at the time.

Adar refused to comment to Haaretz on this report.

The comptroller is expected to expose grave flaws in the commanding and coordination between the police and Prison Service, apparently culminating in the evacuation of the Prison Service cadets' bus from Damon Prison near Beit Oren.

The comptroller's people asked why it was decided to evacuate the bus via the Beit Oren road (Route 721 ), toward which the fire was known to have spread already. They found that Atia, who had commanded the event in its first hours, heard on the radio from Koren that the road had been closed, but did not pass this information on to all the forces on the ground.

Throughout this time there were reports about the danger of traveling on the Beit Oren road, but Atiya did not hold an evaluation of the situation, not even with Prison Service commanders, about whether traffic could be allowed on the road and whether there were alternative routes.

The comptroller's staff asked Koren why he did not set up a tactical command post as soon as the fire broke out, to coordinate all the forces' activities, which would have enabled him to control the events. In the absence of a central command to concentrate the information from all the forces on the ground, Koren could not have seen the full picture, the comptroller's staff found.

The state inquiry commission for the October clashes in 2000, which also examined the Northern District commander's performance, stated that a tactical command post is the only way to gather information for the district commander's use during a large event.

Koren, who has since retired, said "since the report details and the responses to it are classified, I cannot comment."

Atiya refused to comment personally and referred Haaretz to the Police National Headquarters.

A police spokesman said "the Comptroller's Report on the Carmel fire has not been completed, published or distributed. Therefore any dealing with the apparent findings or presumed conclusions could portray a groundless picture."

Senior Prison Service officers were summoned by the Comptroller's Office to give their testimonies regarding the events during the report's preparation. It is possible that the families of the fire victims will ask the attorney general to open a criminal investigation against the responsible officials, the source said.

The Prison Service commanders and officers were responsible for evacuating Damon Prison during the fire. The comptroller's report apparently finds they failed to pass information on to the police and fire fighting forces about what was happening during the critical hours of the fire.

They did not conduct an in-depth examination of the situation or consider the necessity of the additional forces, including the Prison Service cadets' bus.

A Prison Service statement said "we will not deal with the report's conclusions until the final version is published."

The source said the cabinet, headed by Benjamin Netanyahu and ministers Eli Yishai, Yuval Steinitz and Yitzhak Aharonovich, will be held responsible for the sequence of failures and malfunctions that led to the disaster. However, the commanders of the forces on the ground will also have to bear responsibility, the source said.

קראו כתבה זוה בעברית: המבקר צפוי למתוח ביקורת על תפקוד המחוז הצפוני