Fire Still Raging in Four Carmel Sites, Reports Say It 'Will Take a Week to Put Out'

Firefighting crews say fire currently weakened, though likely to intensify again overnight; residents of several towns allowed to return to their homes.

The wildfires blazing through the Carmel forest will take a week to put out, firefighters said at a press conference held at a command center in Haifa on Saturday.

Firefighting crews reported that the fire is still raging in four areas: Har Shokef, Nir Etzion, the Carmel Hai-Bar Nature Reserve, and Isfiya.

The fire, which has been raging since Thursday, killed 41 people and destroyed nearly 50,000 dunams of land in the Carmel region.

Firefighting crews said on Saturday evening that the fire has weakened, though the situation is likely to change overnight due to the inability to use most firefighting aircraft during the night hours.

"Though we are careful using the word 'control', we do see some weakening of the flames," said Boaz Rakia, the spokesperson of the Israeli firefighters association.

Carmel fire plane

He added, however, that the situation could change at night. "I say this carefully because the winds could intensify overnight."

The firefighting aircraft, which are currently flying back and forth across the county, working to put out the blaze, can only be used in daylight, officials at the press conference explained. At night, strong winds strengthen the fire and cause it to spread to other areas.

Firefighting aircraft from Israel and around the world took to the skies over the Carmel region Saturday morning, in a renewed attempt to contain the wildfire that has blazed since Thursday.

The fire hit the artists' village of Ein Hod and moshav Nir Etzion on Saturday, as residents were evacuated from their homes.

A huge Russian plane capable of holding up to 42,000 liters of water which arrived in Israel on Friday took to the skies on Saturday morning, joining six other international aircraft from France, Turkey, Greece and Cyprus, Israeli fire services said.

Satelite image of smoke drifts away from a forest fire AP

Police spokesman Mickey Rosenfeld added that changes in the wind, temperatures and other factors could extend the works to bring the fire under control between 24 and 48 hours.

International planes have been working together with at least 10 Israeli aircraft since 6 AM on Saturday.

17,000 Northern residents have thus far been evacuated from their homes as the wildfire has raged out of control in the Carmel hills south of Haifa, Israel's third largest city, since Thursday morning.

After a situation assessment of police and firefighting crews on Saturday, it was decided it was safe to send residents of a few towns back to their homes. The towns cleared for safety were: Kfar Galim, Kibbutz HaHotrim, Megadim, Tirat Hacarmel, and the Denya neighborhood of Haifa.

Authorities are closely monitoring wind directions and are preparing for the possibility that the fire will spread to additional locations. Buses have been moved into to positions that will allow for additional evacuations if necessary.

Police said that several people who refused to vacate their homes were trapped in Ein Hod and firefighters were attempting to rescue them from the burning village. Army Radio reported one incident where seven people were rescued from a burning building in the village on Saturday morning.

Earlier the flames reached the Carmel Forest Hotel and engulfed the area of the Hai-Bar nature reserve. Animals from the reserve are reported as being evacuated to a safe place.

Firefighters also battled the flames approaching Haifa University and the Denya neighborhood of Haifa.

Police forces arrested Saturday two brothers from the Druze village of Isfiya who are suspected of being responsible for the act of negligence which started the massive fire.

Detectives believe the brothers lit a fire near their home in the western part of Isfiya which spread and ultimately set the entire Carmel ablaze.

Israel Police Spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said that the investigation into the fire, which has burnt down thousands of acres of forest and prompted the evacuation of 17,000 people, was continuing.

He said despite foreign firefighters helping to battle the blaze, it was still out of control in tracts of northern Israeli forest.

The death toll from the blaze reached 41 on Friday. Most of the victims had perished in an incident on Thursday involving a bus carrying members of a Prison Service guards' course who were heading to the Damon jail in order to help evacuate inmates.