Haifa on fire, 60,000 people evacuated

A gutted home in Zichron Ya'acov


Homes were evacuated in one residential neighborhood after another Thursday, Nov. 24, ahead of the huge flames and thick smoke enveloping Israel’s third city, Haifa, three days after hundreds of wildfires, most caused by arsonists, began spreading across the country.  At least 100 people suffered injuries in Haifa, most from smoke inhalation, and dozens of shock victims were taken to hospital. Haifa University and the Technion was cleared and closed. as flames consumed buildings around the campuses. The Damon and Carmel prisons are being evacuated. Efforts were made with volunteers to help inmates of nursing homes and hospitals to safety.

Firefighting planes sent by Greece and Turkey dropped retardants.

The Israeli government was called into emergency session Thursday night, as the fires continued to blaze out of control, whipped up by dry winds which are forecast to last another six days.

Five Palestinians were detained on suspicion of arson. A contraption used by arsonists was discovered at the scene of one of the fires. The Shin Bet and fire brigade’s investigators have gone into action to put a stop to the wave of arson attacks, which are encouraged by Palestinian social media..

As the fully mobilized fire teams rushed from scene to scene, backed by Homeland Security Ministry reserve firefighters and soldiers, it became apparent that there was no clear organization in place for mass evacuations, especially of citizens without private cars, the elderly, handicapped and families with small children. The emergency services issued conflicting guidelines to the public causing chaos. Families told to evacuate in their own vehicles gridlocked the roads needed to stay open for fire engines and other emergency traffic, instead of the city hall commandeering buses. Haifa is an industrial city with petrochemical industries and an oil refinery with abundant woods and parks, especially on the Carmel. Yet the central operations room for managing the emergency was set up too late to control the town as fires sprang up in five places..

The outskirts of Modi’in, a town between Tel Aviv and Jerusalem caught fire again Thursday after the flames were brought under control during the night. There were signs of arson. Schools and kindergartens were closed early morning.

debkafile reported earlier:

After more than 200 wildfires had been raging across Israel for two days, rekindled by high winds as soon as firefighters controlled the flames, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu Wednesday night, Nov. 23, confirmed evidence of arson in several places.

Public Security Minister Gilead Erdan and police commissioner Roni Alsheikh decided to post soldiers, police and border guards in open areas around towns, villages and communities to secure them against further arson attacks and catch the perpetrators.

Police are investigating the wholesale outbreaks of wildfire in widely separate spots, causing extensive damage to homes and buildings. Thousands of people had fled their homes ahead of the flames that consumed all their possessions in central and eastern Israel. Whole streets and neighborhoods up and down the country have been destroyed. Damage is initially estimated at NIS.50 million ($12m).

Responding to Israel’s appeal, Russia, Croatia, Italy, Greece and Cyprus will be sending over six planes to support Israel’s own fleet of aerial firefighters. The first are due to land Thursday morning.
Israel has asked Greece, Cyprus, Italy and Turkey for extra planes to reinforce Israel’s own fleet of aerial firefighter planes. The gusty winds and exceptionally dry weather have kept sparks flying and reignited the blaze in many places after it was brought under control. They are forecast to continue up until the weekend.

Zichron Yaacov, south of Haifa, was the first victim. An entire neighborhood of small homes in a wooded area was burned to the ground. Dolev, 6km north of Ramallah, was evacuated as homes were enveloped in flames. There, surveillance cameras recorded the arsonists at work. Nataf, a small community, west of Jerusalem, was emptied as buildings caught fire.

Wednesday night, flames shot into the sky from Reut, between Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. In western Galilee, a forest fire reached the small community of Gilon and forced its evacuation. Tuesday night, 13 bush fires were extinguished in northern Israel.
During the day, the IDF Home Front called up reservists to back up the fire brigades and police who are operating at full stretch up and down the country.

While the hot, dry winds swept across the entire region this week, Israel is the only country to have been plagued by nationwide wildfires. Across the Green Line, not a single Palestinian town or village was affected.  The suspicion of organized arson under intense investigation has fallen first and foremost on Palestinian extremists, who may have come up with a new form of terror, which is easy for the culprit to escape undetected.

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