A massive fire raged near the Pladot metal works factory in the Akko industrial zone on Saturday. A cloud of thick smoke hovered over the Haifa bay area, and residents of nearby Kfar Masrik and Ein Hamifratz were instructed to remain indoors so as not to inhale any dangerous substances.
Firefighters managed to partially control the blaze in the evening hours, and the residents were given the okay to leave their homes.
Markets and shopping centers in the area were also evacuated.
The fire broke out near the factory at 11 am, and a black cloud of smoke quickly covered the entire region, and began to move towards the Haifa bay area.
Haifa firefighters said metal goods stored in stacks near the factory had caught fire. Shmuel Franco, spokesman for the Western Galilee's fire brigade, said 20 teams were currently trying to quell the flames.
Initially, eight teams were deployed to the scene, but after struggling with the fire for some time, the fire fighters requested backup. Fire brigade sources said the flames themselves posed no threat to people or property.
Cloud of smoke covering area (Photo: Shai Vaknin)
Due to the fire, the adjacent section of Highway 4 was closed to traffic, and police officers instructed drivers to take alternate routs.
Environmental protection organizations were outraged by the incident, particularly since they had warned of the dangers the factory poses to the environment many times in the past.
Liora Amitai, director of the Citizens for the Environment in the Galilee association told Ynet, "Such a fire forces all the people in Ein Hamifratz, Kfar Masrik, Akko and the Krayot to inhale dangerous substances, it's an outrage."
Roee Ben David, a resident of Kfar Masrik and chairman of the kibbutz's environmental protection committee told Ynet, "The fire started around 11 am, and immediately, people that were on their lawns, at the pool, or in any other activity, stopped what they were doing and ran indoors. Only at around 1 pm did we receive an official report from the Ministry of Environment Protection.
"My wife, who is due to give birth tomorrow, suffered from scorching and nausea. We are actually right in the middle of a thick cloud of smoke."
He said he and his fellow committee members have been working against the chemicals that are emitted from the factory and trying to present their case to the relevant bodies.
"An incident such as a fire draws attention and raises interest, but during the year we inhale chemicals that have no color or smell. We are collecting information on the quality of the air and the earth in the area, and are also in talks with factory's administration to reduce pollution and neutralize the noise levels that come from the factory, particularly in the evening and night hours," he said.
Rami Shani, the factory's owner, told Ynet the fire broke out in an area used to store scrap metal. He said the fire brigades' response was slow, and the initial teams only arrived at the scene half an hour after the fire broke out.
Shani expressed concerns that people who have been working against the factory may use the fire to their advantage. "The problem is that there are people here who want the factory closed at all costs. They are searching for reasons from under the ground. We are backed up by documents and numbers, there is a monitoring station that operates right next to the factory," Shani said.
He said that besides one inspection in 2006 which revealed an irregular amount of dioxins, "this factory has no emissions, no irregularities and no excessive noise violations."