'It's Frustrating to Be Mocked'

Tired and sooty, firefighters bemoan that no one listened until their predictions came true.

After two and a half hours of fighting the flames rising from the wadi near the Hai Bar reserve on Saturday, fireman Meir Nagar admitted that the fire would resume burning as darkness fell.

Standing on the steep terrain and gripping a hose, he was on the brink of collapse.

fire - AP - December 6 2010

"The minute the planes stop working, the fire will come back. It's impossible to know with these winds, they are not subsiding. Every half hour they blow in a different direction."

Three hours later, an intense fire reignited there and began spreading toward the University of Haifa. During the night, it headed south, and new focal points developed around Moshav Nir Etzion and the villages of Ein Hod and Ein Hud.

Earlier Saturday, at around 2:30 P.M., Nagar and four other firefighters from the Galilee headed toward the Hai Bar reserve. The animals had been evacuated. The team was coming to provide backup for others trying to keep back the flames. But the fire engine's ignition would not start.

It is 18 years old, noted fireman Shimon Alfasi, and has thousands of kilometers and hundreds of fires behind it. "She's old now," he said.

Alfasi, the driver, got the truck rolling down a steep descent, and managed to get the engine going. In the back sat firemen Yisrael Revivo, Eli Shushan and Lior Almakayis. In the front were Alfasi and Nagar. Their eyes were bleary and their faces were sooty, but the confusion and panic of Thursday seemed to have disappeared. The men were smiling and more relaxed, because of the massive backup from foreign firefighting planes hovering overhead, one by one dumping fire extinguishing substances into the wadi.

"We are letting the planes do the work now," said Revivo.

They came to the Carmel on Thursday evening and had been working in the field since then, for two days.

"And the situation is the same as it was two days ago. Nothing is progressing," Revivo said. "The winds shift constantly and the fire changes direction so every half hour we have a new situation assessment. At 5 A.M. the winds were coming from the east, at 6:30 A.M. they shifted southward and half an hour later they shifted again to the east."

Massive firefighting operations by the firefighting planes caused the black smoke engulfing the area to turn white. "It's damp smoke, that's a good sign," explained Revivo, immediately qualifying, "until the winds decide otherwise. It's frustrating, you're helpless.

"It's an uncomfortable situation for firemen; we're used to being in control; that's how we were trained. I've been a fireman for 22 years and we never experienced anything like this before," says Revivo.

Heading down from the Western Galilee on Thursday, "we said that for all these years we warned that this day would come," said Almakayis, who supplied water from the truck to Shushan and Nagar in the wadi below. "We talked about scenarios in the Carmel and that it could develop into a large-scale fire because there aren't enough firefighters, fire trucks and firefighting planes. The writing was on the wall and no one listened to us," he said. "It's frustrating and infuriating to be mocked."

At 4:30 P.M., Nagar and Shushan exited the wadi and pulled the water hose along the 500-meter path outside the wadi. Almakayis called over the communication device: "Give me water, I have fire here. It's not over."