Authorities: Israel's Largest Fire Ever is Out

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JERUSALEM, Israel -- It took four days and aerial aid from 10 countries as far away as the U.S. to extinguish the worst fire in Israel's history. In the end, 42 people were killed, at least 12,500 acres of forestland destroyed, 250 homes damaged - 70 of them beyond repair -- and more than $50 million in damage caused according to initial estimates, reports said.

By Monday morning, firefighters received help from above in the form of much needed rain that had begun to fall in the Carmel region just south of Haifa, helping to punctuate an end to the deadly blaze.

See a slideshow of the damage from Israel's worst fire in history here.

Also, find out how you can help CBN's Operation Blessing International provide aid to Israel's fire victims.

It's still not clear how the fire started. Authorities arrested two teenage brothers on suspicion they had set the fire on purpose. Their lawyer said they instead had tried to put out the fire.

A severe drought and merciless wind worked against efforts to douse the flames which began on midday Thursday in what was one of the most beautiful areas of the country, known as "little Switzerland."

A Sad Day

The funerals of 27 victims of the fire were held on Sunday, the youngest of whom was 16-year-old Elad Riven. He was a volunteer with the fire department and had left class early on Thursday to help in the efforts.

Thirty-seven of the victims were prison authority personnel on their way to evacuate a prison in the way of the fire on the first day of the blaze when their bus was caught in a sudden shift of the flames.

More than 30 people suffered from fire-related injuries, two of whom are still in critical condition. 

Meanwhile, Haifa's Asst.-Cmdr Ahuva Tomer died Monday after being fatally injured in the wildfire.

"Ahuva, our friend, distinguished commander, brave and iron woman who stood the difficult test of fire and rose to the challenge, lived and died as a hero," Police Insp.-Gen. David Cohen said.

"The whole of the Israel Police family is stunned with grief, and is hurting today," he added.

Help from Afar

On Sunday, Israel Air Force Commander Maj.-General Ido Nehushtan said 35 planes were in use to extinguish the blaze including 24 from abroad. Bulgaria, Greece, Britain, Turkey, Russia, France, U.S., Cypress, Italy and Switzerland sent aircraft to assist Israel.

Israel also leased the 'Evergreen 747 Super Tanker' - the world's largest firefighting aircraft from an American company. The plane arrived on Saturday evening and went into action on Sunday, carrying 21,000 gallons of water and fire retardant.

Even the Palestinians sent in three Palestinian Civil Defense units to help Israeli firefighters combat the flames on the ground.

Now Come the Recriminations

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu justified the need to call for help at a cabinet meeting on Sunday.

"The firefighters are doing holy work but it must be understood that this kind of wildfire can only be defeated and extinguished from the air," Netanyahu said.

"It must be understood that massive forest fires are fundamentally different from routine fires. The only way to deal with these wildfires is to integrate not only ground forces but aerial forces as well, local and international alike," he said. "Thus the major powers have acted."

Netanyahu noted that California had to enlist the support of eight countries to fight a massive wildfire a few years ago and Russia asked help from Ukraine last summer to fight a wildfire blaze, he said.

Israel's comptroller is expected to issue a harsh report on the unpreparedness of Israel's firefighting services. And there have been calls for the resignation of Interior Minister Eli Yishai, whose ministry is in charge of such services.

"Firefighters gain control of blaze as comptroller readies scathing report," screamed a headline in the Israeli daily Ha'artz.

"The flames are out…now come the recovery and the recriminations," blared the headline in Monday's Jerusalem Post.

Restoring Israel's Infrastructure

The Israeli cabinet approved more than $16 million in emergency aid for the communities and victims of the fire on Sunday. Netanyahu said he wanted to help evacuees to rebuild their homes and rehabilitate infrastructure as quickly as possible.

"I do not want delays. I do not want bureaucracy. I want processes to be shortened. I want quick solutions. I want all of the people, within days, to be able to return to their homes or to alternative housing, until the reconstruction work is finished," he said.

Meanwhile, Israel's Ministry of Tourism and the Keren-Kayemeth LeIsrael-Jewish National Fund (responsible for much of the forestation of Israel for many years) decided to launch a campaign to raise funds among the American Jerusalem community and American Evangelical Christians to help rehabilitate the Carmel forest region, which lost four to 5 million trees in the fire.

Sources: Jerusalem Post, Ha'aretz, YNet, Israel Radio, government communiques

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CBN News
Julie Stahl

Julie Stahl

CBN News Mideast Bureau

CBN News is a national/international, nonprofit news organization that provides programming by cable, satellite, and the Internet, 24-hours a day. Follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and Google+.