Air offensive contains Carmel wildfire. Galilee guards catch arsonists
The onslaught waged by aerial firefighters from half a dozen countries Saturday, Dec. 4, contained the calamitous Mt. Carmel wildfire raging since Thursday – although the situation remains volatile. If the winds abate during the night, during which aircraft are grounded, progress may be confirmed. The overall director of the firefighting operation, Internal Security Minister Yitzhak Aharonovitch, remained pessimistic although at one point he saw "the beginning of the end" of the worst fire disaster in its history.
Saturday night, volunteer defense teams caught six individuals in the act of starting fires in different parts of Galilee.
Residents were allowed to return home to Tirat Hacarmel, Kfar Galim. Kibbutz Hahotrim, Moshav Megadim and Haifa's Danya suburb, but tongues of fire were still shooting up at the artists' village of Ein Hod, Nir Etzion and around the two Druze villages Isfiya, threatening the Demobbed Soldiers district, and Daliat Hacarmel.
As the Carmel fire abated, the rash of arson attacks spread, concentrated in Lower and Western Galilee but also touching on the Jerusalem vicinity for the first time Saturday. Northern District commander Shimon Koren reported progress in the investigation into attacks and said he expects to make arrests.
The Carmel fire is initially believed to have started Thursday after two 16-year old boys from Isfiya neglected to put out a bonfire over which they had met friends for a smoke.
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu ordered firefighting air unit established and announced a comprehensive program would be set in place to indemnify people for the damage suffered in the fire and promised to cut through Israel's notorious red tape. He also pledged a national program to restore the Carmel woodlands to their former beauty.
The fire is calculated to have laid waste to 50,000 dunams of nature preserve and woodland on the Carmel range and destroyed five million trees. Many houses with their contents are black ruins, especially in Ain Hod where many artists lost their life's work. Through the night, bulldozers will smash through the burnt acres to create wide fire breaks to contain the spread of more outbreaks.
Netanyahu stressed it is no disgrace to call on international aid in a fire emergency. International response to the crisis was amazing, he said in a news briefing Saturday night. He reserved special praise for Egypt, Jordan and the Palestinians, as well as Greece whose planes arrived first and Russia, which has sent on a 10-day mission an Il-76 Ilyushin plane, capable of dumping 42 tons of water onto fires, an amphibious Be-200 Beriev plane and a Mi-26 Halo heavy transport helicopter equipped with a 15-ton water reservoir.
Four American planes were due Saturday night with experts and emergency supplies of anti-fire substances as well as four French planes and two German choppers. By Sunday, there should be a score of planes fighting the wildfire over Mt. Carmel.
He has charted a Boening 747 Jumbo converted fire-fighting with tanks able to carry 80 tons of water and nigh vision instruments.
The Sunday cabinet session takes place in Tirat Hacarmel instead of Jerusalem.