On the third day of wildfires in Israel and the West Bank, international help began arriving, but conditions suddenly worsened significantly in the morning, particularly in the Haifa area. Israeli authorities ordered the evacuation of at least 60,000 people.
UPDATE: By nightfall, The Jerusalem Post reported here that “80,000 residents have now been told to evacuate”.
Almost exactly six years ago, a similar fire grew out-of-control, some 42 people died in the flames, and Israel’s lack of preparedness to fight fires was exposed. Israel was prepared to fight wars, but not fires. See our earlier reports on that fire in this blog, here and here and here.
In December 2010, Israel had no firefighting airplanes – none. Since then, Israel has apparently acquired 12 firefighting airplanes, but still needed more in the Haifa area today. Netanyahu, according to the Jerusalem Post story mentioned above, “said that Israel’s squadron of some 12 firefighting aircraft was not enough, and that he turned to other countries for assistance. By midnight, he said, a total of 10 planes will have arrived from Russia, Greece, Italy, Cyprus and Turkey. The [US] Supertanker, however, is the only plane with the capabilities to operate at night, and will arrive in approximately 28 hours”.
Haaretz: “It was almost six years ago to the day that Israel suffered its worst natural disaster ever. The fire that erupted in the Carmel Forest in northern Israel on December 2, 2010, lasting four days and claiming 44 lives, remains a national trauma. About 17,000 Israelis were evacuated from their homes during that disaster, and thousands of acres of forest were destroyed. It took U.S. intervention, in the form of a Boeing 747 Supertanker flown across the Atlantic, to extinguish the last flames…The weather conditions then were remarkably similar to those today, as Shahar Ayalon, Israel’s former fire and rescue commissioner, notes. For that reason, he says, he was not surprised by the outbreak of the latest fires. ‘You have a combination of drought conditions and dry winds from the east, and this is the result,. he told Haaretz. ‘It’s to be expected’. Clearly, Israel had been caught unprepared in 2010. It did not have the manpower or the equipment required to battle a fire of that magnitude. Nor did its command and controls systems operate as they should have… Ayalon was appointed head of Israel’s firefighting authorities in 2011, not long after the Carmel disaster, and remained in his post until six months ago. During this time, he says, ‘everything that was promised was fulfilled’. In recent years, according to Ayalon, 800 new firefighters were recruited – almost doubling the size of the force. A squadron of firefighting planes was established, and 20 new fire stations were opened around the country”.
read more: http://www.haaretz.com/israel-news/.premium – report posted here.
However, Reuters reported that “Education Minister Naftali Bennett, the leader of the Jewish Home party which supports settlements in the West Bank where Palestinians seek statehood, said on Twitter that arsonists were disloyal to Israel, hinting that those who set the fires could not be Jewish. ‘Only those to whom the country does not belong are capable of burning it,’ he said in a tweet in Hebrew”. This was published here.
The Reuters report also noted that “On social media, some Arabs and Palestinians celebrated the fires and the hashtag #Israelisburning was trending on Twitter”.
This did not happen in 2010 — a lot has changed since then…
The weather has been a big factor in these fires, both in 2010 and in 2016.
As Reuters stated, “The fires have been burning in multiple locations for the past three days but intensified on Thursday, fueled by unseasonably dry weather and strong easterly winds…Local weather forecasters have said the tinder-dry conditions – it has not rained in parts of Israel for months – and strong winds are set to continue for several days and they see little prospect of normal seasonal precipitation arriving”…
UPDATE: By midnight, YNet reported here: Eight Palestinian firefighter vehicles, escorted by the Commander of the Jenin Civil Administration, made their way to Haifa to help extinguish the fires raging in the city. In 2010 the PA did provide succor in the Mount Carmel Forest fires”.