Global Education

No, we didn’t light it, but we’re trying to fight it

By Dina Busaba
Published: December 2010

Israel experienced its largest fire in national history on Thursday, December 2. The flames vigorously burned Mount Carmel, near Haifa, spreading over 10,000 acres of land. Haifa- Israel’s third largest city- was deeply affected by the blaze.
The fire was under control by the following Monday, with firefighters containing the few remaining blazes.
An upwards of 17,000 people were evacuated from nearby shelters. They were put into various hotels, shelters, and relatives’ homes.
The death toll was confirmed at 42 people. The victims were volunteers and police chiefs going in to help put out the fire. Their bus was engulfed and they were burned alive.
Ahuva Tomer, a 52 year-old police chief who was seriously injured in the fire, died on Monday December 6. That same day, many funerals took place, commemorating the dead.
Police arrested two Druze boys, ages fourteen and sixteen, suspected for starting the fire. Due to the fact that they are minors, their names were not released to the press.
Their father claimed they were innocent, and the two boys were released to house arrest.
Officials believed the fire was not terrorist-related, but rather caused by pure negligence.
A 14 year-old minor, also suspected for taking part in the fire, confessed to starting the fire when questioned. He had been smoking tobacco and failed to properly dispose of his still burning coal. No connections were made with the previous suspects.
Forest fires are very common in the Middle East around this time of the year; rain rarely falls and the air is dry. Israel’s neighboring country Lebanon experienced a forest fire as well on Tuesday, December 7.
This was the first case that required outside forces to help stop the disaster. Ten countries within the region took action to extinguish the fire, including Jordan, Turkey, and Egypt.
Despite the recent turmoil between the two countries, Turkey donated two helicopters. Turkey’s Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan said this act of kindness should not be interpreted as a step towards a peace treaty, but rather just a regular humanitarian act.
Many were enraged by the government’s slow and disorganized attempts to douse the flames. Israel was supposedly ready in case a forest fire broke out, but this time it was totally caught off guard.
Israeli Opposition leader Tzipi Livni recommended that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu resign. A State Comptroller’s report criticizing the fire services prompted Livni’s suggestion. While she believes he meant well, his failure to effectively handle the situation was the cause of conflict.
With the Carmel forest area’s tree count at its highest, this fire has set Israel back many years, with experts saying it will take at least fifty to grow back all the trees burned.

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