IN PICTURES / Carmel Blaze Attracts Bystanders Looking for Some 'Reality'

From all over Israel, people crowd the highways and overpasses to get a glimpse of the fire that has been ravaging northern Israel.

As is the case with any national disaster, the fire-fighters from Greece, Turkey, and Russia were joined with another brand of special forces. They came from Rehovot, from Rishon Letzion and Pardes Hana, equipped with sights and binoculars of all kinds. Nothing could come in the way of achieving their ultimate goal: documenting events. Meet the Carmel fire's elite squad: the bystanders.

Carmel fire 4/12/2010
Gil Magen Cohen

Dozens of such curious bystanders crowded the coastal highway with its pedestrian overpasses facing those areas affected by the massive blaze over the weekend. Unfazed by a police prohibition to park their cars along the road, they were greeted by foreign planes and helicopters constantly flying over, from the sea to the fire, and back again. They came armed with a sense of purpose, equipped with every possible recording device – from cell-phones to telescopic lenses – arriving to check if the fire-fighters are doing their job.

"You know the people who get killed going to watch hurricanes?" Yehiel Twito, 53, asked from his vantage point near the Atlit interchange, "it's like that. If fills you with adrenaline, otherwise life would be boring as hell."

He came especially from Rehovot, along with his 8-year-old grandson. When asked whether he feared the danger, he said: "even those climbing the Everest don't think they'll die. It's beautiful! Look!"

Twito spent the entire Friday patrolling the disaster scenes with his grandson. "We were at Tirat Carmel. I spoke with the people, it was interesting," he said. "It's about coming to see reality as it happens, not through the television. Here you can smell reality, the smoke."

"Whoa! Look how many planes together," his grandson yelled out, counting five. "What's better, the Pestigal [a popular children's show staged every Hannuka] or this?" the grandfather asked and laughed.

Dina from Rishon Letzion stood not far from Twito along with her husband. "We wanted to come here last night," she said. "It's a kind of identification, I don't know how to explain it. We've been here for an hour, we're coming and going. We were in Haifa, went to Bat Galim and back. Honestly, you can't see that much, but it's very exciting."

"All the helicopters, all foreign made, it's so moving that everyone arrived to help, it's unbelievable," Dina said starry eyed. "I just hope all the cars parked on the shoulder didn't cause an accident."

"The gap between reports and reality is what got me out"

Hava Margol, a woman in her sixties from Pardes Hana, arrived at Fureidis Junction near Zichron Yaakov. "First of all, there's a lust for action common to all Israelis. What can you do, the TV only goes so far." When asked why she brought a camera she said: "the lust for documenting. The photos aren't any good – but it's my camera."

"Funny thing is I wanted to visit the new Haifa tunnels yesterday," she said, adding that the fire changed those plans. Her family, it seemed, was not as enthusiastic about her new hobby: "My husband is against it, he says 'don't go out, you'll disturb the firefighters' work!'"

And yet, she said, there's a difference between what you see on TV and reality. "They're saying that Fureidis Junction is closed and I see it's open. The gap between what's reported and what's really happening is what gets me out. I want to see things with my own eyes."