Israel’s deadliest fire, which claimed the lives of at least 41 people, continues to rage for second night in a row: Several firefighters were rescued from the flames in the northern community of Nir Etzion Friday night, as authorities were preparing to launch a major operation to battle the flames Saturday.
Early Saturday, four Border Guard police officers were lightly hurt by smoke inhalation after being trapped near the northern community of Ein Hod.
The four were rescued and taken to Rambam hospital in Haifa, Magen David Adom spokesman Zaki Heller said.
The huge northern Israel fire raged out of control late Friday, prompting authorities to block Highway 4. Residents of Nir Etzion as well as Ein Hod and Yemin Ord were ordered to leave their homes urgently as result of grave fears for their lives. The communities were evacuated Thursday, but some residents returned to their houses on Friday.
Praying for miracle (Photo: Avishag Shaar-Yashuv)
By Friday evening, eyewitnesses said that the flames were nearing the Nir Etzion meat factory, which holds gas depots on site.
Also Friday, the fire reached the Carmel Forest Spa resort, which was evacuated earlier, and engulfed it in flames. Dozens of firemen were forced to flee the resort earlier as flames approached them rapidly.
The blaze was also moving closer to University of Haifa and to the Denia neighborhood in town, Israel’s third-largest city, and was raging in the Isfiya area as well.
While the blaze rages on, officials at the fire command post are planning to renew major aerial firefighting efforts on Saturday after halting them at night. Authorities are preparing a complex operation utilizing some 30 firefighting aircraft. The effort will be coordinated by Air Force officials who enlisted for the cause.
Firefighting and Rescue Services Spokesman Yoram Levy expressed optimism in a conversation with Ynet, saying that “tomorrow we’ll deliver a serious blow” to the blaze.
By Friday evening, all cases of arson in the north during the day were dealt with and extinguished. Police officials raised their alert level for fear that arsonists will continue to operate nationwide in an effort to disrupt forces battling the blaze. Early Saturday, a new blaze was reported near the northern town of Ma'alot, as police rushed to the scene and sealed off the area.
Speaking at a briefing Friday, Police Commissioner Dudi Cohen said he hoped the fire would be extinguished by Saturday night. He added that officials will soon find out whether the massive blaze was the result of arson or negligence.
“Our eyes are burning after working for 16 hours,” an exhausted fireman told Ynet as he emerged from one of the blaze sites. “We make sure to use breathing equipment, yet regrettably we do not wear our protective goggles, as they make our work much more cumbersome.”
Almost no Carmel residents were evacuated Friday, after some 17,000 left their homes Thursday as the flames approached their communities.
Israeli firefighters received massive assistance from many states worldwide, including Greece, Bulgaria, Cyprus, Jordan, Britain, Turkey, France, the United States, Egypt, Italy, Croatia, Romania, Azerbaijan, Switzerland, and Spain. On Friday, the US Administration announced that it was dispatching three firefighting experts to Israel as well as large quantities of fire retardant chemicals.
Dor Glick, Yoav Zitun, Yitzhak Benhorin, Yael Branovksy, Roni Sofer, Ahiya Raved and Hagai Einav contributed to the story