Firefighters Gain Control of Blaze as Comptroller Readies Scathing Report

Firefighters gained control over the Carmel blaze yesterday afternoon, after four days of battling the flames that caused the deaths of 41 people - and three days before the state comptroller is expected to release a scathing report, revealing governmental lapses in the handling of firefighting preparedness.

Fires were still blazing near Isfiya and Ein Hod last night, but firefighters said they were under control. They will continue to work in the area for the next two days until the last of the fires is put out, the fire service said. The country's rescue services will decide this morning whether firefighting aircraft are still needed, and if it's possible to send home some of the people how have been fighting the fire.

bibi - Reuters - December 6 2010

Some 50,000 dunams (12,500 acres ) of forest land and 74 homes were burned down in the Carmel region. The thousands of residents evacuated in the last few days have been allowed to return home.

"The teams are dispersed in the field and are running around from one spot to another, in response to information from the command post and the drone," said Yosef Ben Yosef, who heads the Haifa Bay fire station. "The way it looks right now, if we get through the night, we'll get a 'clean situation' assessment. There are still hot spots in the field, and we won't go until they are fully extinguished. I estimate that it will take 48 hours."

Most of the firefighting aircraft that other countries lent Israel have left the country, though Greek and Cypriot planes remain and could be put to use today if deemed necessary.

"We're not leaving yet and not reducing our forces," said Ben Yosef. "We have learned that the wind can deceive us, and we don't want to draw hasty conclusions. We don't want surprises. It's better to make another small effort so that we get out of here calmly, in the end."

Yosef said the aircraft sent by other country's in response to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's call for assistance helped firefighters deal with the "complex topographical area of Mount Carmel."

"But there's no doubt that the work of the firefighters on the ground was essentially the 'last word' in the effort," he added.

State Comptroller Micha Lindenstrauss said yesterday he would not postpone the release of a report on the fire service that his office is now compiling, after Netanyahu asked him to expand the document to include a critique of the government's preparedness for the Carmel fire.

Lindenstrauss is expected to issue the report Wednesday, but is due to meet with staff in his office today to discuss whether to undertake a separate investigation of the Carmel fire.

Some see Netanyahu's request as a way of providing the public with an investigation of the wildfire, without having to establish a commission of inquiry.

But sources in the premier's office said Netanyahu was just seeking an initial report, especially since the comptroller was already investigating the country's preparedness for dealing with fires.

"That doesn't mean there won't be an additional investigation in the future," one of the sources said.

The comptroller has already critiqued the state's fire preparedness, saying in a 2007 report that the fire service is the weakest of Israel's rescue forces.

Another report, issued early this year, stated that the situation of the fire service had significantly deteriorated in the time since the first report. Soon afterward, Interior Minister Eli Yishai initiated a cabinet resolution to inject more funding into the fire service.