Sun, Dec 05, 2010 - Page 5 News List

Inferno sweeps through north of Israel unchecked

AFP, HAIFA, Israel

A resident of Ein Hod, Israel, uses a hose in an attempt to extinguish flames in the Carmel Forest yesterday.

Photo: EPA

The massive fire ripping through northern Israel was still incinerating swathes of land yesterday, with little sign that Israeli and foreign firefighters were winning the battle to contain it.

With 41 people dead and more than 17,000 people evacuated from their homes, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu sought to bring in more international forces to join those already working to battle the biggest inferno in Israel’s history.

Police said the fire had destroyed homes in three areas overnight: Ein Hod, Nir Etzion and Yemin Hod, all of which had already been evacuated. As dawn broke, dozens of fire-fighting aircraft resumed work, including a Russian aircraft capable of dropping 42,000 liters of water at a single pass.

There was no indication as to when the firefighters were likely to gain control over the blaze, which is raging through a nature reserve near the northern port city of Haifa. However, late on Friday, Chezi Levy, spokesman for the Haifa fire service, said the fire was being brought under control in some areas.

“The fires are dying down everywhere except in the southern front where the flames are still high and remain strong, which is where we are concentrating our efforts,” Levy said.

He said an investigation had ascertained where the fire began, but its cause was still unclear.

Israeli police chief Dudi Cohen said the fire was still a formidable force.

“At this moment it cannot be said that the fire is under control, not yet,” he said. “I really hope that the fire will be under control by tomorrow evening, but we still have a lot to do.”

With 41 people dead and 17 injured, one of them critically, officials said they were still searching for another four people

By nightfall on Friday, the fire had incinerated more than 4,000 hectares of land, with flames reaching the southern outskirts of Haifa, Israel’s third-largest city.

Netanyahu said international help was crucial to putting out the blaze.

“Our firefighting measures cannot provide an answer to forest fires of this magnitude, especially in the face of such winds,” he told his Security Cabinet on Friday.

Aid poured in, with 16 countries offering various types of assistance.

By Friday afternoon, four Greek planes, a Cypriot plane and helicopter, two British helicopters and two Turkish planes had joined the operation, backed by 92 Bulgarian firemen, the Israeli military said.

Netanyahu’s office said yesterday that the prime minister was continuing to seek aid from abroad.

In a telephone call overnight, US President Barack Obama promised to send 45 tonnes of fire retardant and other assets to combat the fire.

He said the US would also send 12,000 liters of class A foam, as well as a team of experts with equipment, White House aide Ben Rhodes said.

The Pentagon is also mobilizing National Guard troops and assets equipped with targeted fire--fighting systems.

And UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon offered to mobilize international help.

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