Arson attacks spread from North to Jerusalem. Air fleet battles Carmel fire

Arson attacks spread Saturday, Dec. 4 from the North to Jerusalem, where fires started at Tsur Hadassah and the Jerusalem Forest. Day Three of the Carmel fire day began with a fleet of foreign planes taking off at first light to dump water and fresh supplies of retardants on the flames and smoke again engulfing Beit Oren, Ein Hod, Nir Etzion and Isfiya, fanned by scorching winds.

The two giant Russian Il-76s carry 42 tons of water in each sortie. Greek, Cypriot, Turkish and British planes filled their tanks with seawater and doused focal points. Jordan and Egypt sent fire trucks and volunteers.

Despite the massive international effort to beat back the fire, the overall director of the fire-fighting operation, Internal Security Minister Yitzhak Aharonovitch was not optimistic about quick results Saturday. The blaze is showing as much obstinacy as the forces fighting it.

The bodies were recovered of two senior police officers, Lior Boker, 57, North Command Operations chief, from Pardess Hanna and Yizhak Melina, 46, head of Traffic in Haifa district, the fireman Uri Semandayov, 27, from Mishmar HaEmek, and Elad Riban, the 16-year old schoolboy volunteer from Haifa. Ahuva Tomer, commander of the Haifa district is still in serious condition.
As part of the official campaign to avoid attaching a deliberate character to the widely-spread outbreaks of fire, police spokesmen reported that an initial probe had shown the Carmel fire was set off Thursday, Dec. 1, by the carelessness of an Isfiya family who neglected to put out the nargilla they were smoking.

Nonetheless, debkafile reports the police have posted patrols in Western Galilee and other parts of northern Israel to watch out for fire-raisers. Saturday, Manara and Margaliot near Kiryat Shmona and the Galilee Panhandle, were the northernmost point hit by suspected arson. Fires there triggered explosions at a nearby minefield. The Manara-Margalit road was closed and Jewish National Fund forest inspectors asked to keep an eye out for offenders from their look-out posts.

Two American flights are now expected with fire-fighting materials and experts. One French plane is in place and three more, two of them amphibious, go into action Sunday with tanks capable of carrying 10 tons of water and refilling every 20 minutes. Altogether, nine foreign planes are due Sunday, with Russian President Dmitry Medvedev promising a third Iyushin and a big air transport.

Black stumps and soot-laden soil are all that remains of 10,000 acres of nature reserve, parks and woodland of the northern Carmel range, one of the most popular and scenic getaway spots in the country. Four million trees, some of them rare species, were lost, despite the efforts of the Nature and Parks Authority and Jewish National Fund personnel. The Hay Bar open zoo is threatened, although the animals are still safe.

The Fire Brigade's entire national force of 400 firefighters mobilized Thursday are all still on duty. Seventeen villages, kibbutzim and other locations have been evacuated and housed in temporary shelters. Friday night, seven people, trapped in a burning building at the Ein Hod artists' village, were rescued safely.   

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