Foreign firefighting teams began aiding Israel Friday morning as it battled one of the worst fires in its history. The blaze is moving west, threatening a Haifa neighborhood and the Druze town of Isfiya.
The first to join forces were Greek and Bulgarian teams, which had arrived in the Ramat David Air Force base before first light. A British helicopter landed in Haifa later in the morning, having come from Cyprus along with a Cypriot plane and chopper.
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Despite foreign efforts, however, the fire began to spread towards Haifa's Denia neighborhood in the morning. In Tirat Carmel firefighters reported that though they had succeeded in blocking the flames in the town, winds and the dry weather rekindled them until they once again threatened homes.
Police say the fire is currently strongest near the community of Nir Etzion, and that homes there are in danger of being torched. Police stressed that any residents who had returned home without permission are in danger.
Highway 2 was also closed in a number of areas as the blaze moved west, concentrating in the area of Isfiya, Beit Oren, and Ein Hod. Residents who had returned home were evacuated once again.
Sunrise Friday morning (Photo: Timor Dzabarov)
Major Jack Tesperbedes, who is in command of the Greek forces, said he was proud to assist Israel. "We have a lot of experience in these types of missions and we are here to help you," he said. "We will do the best job we can."
Air Force chief Ido Nehushtan shook the hands of the foreign commanders and thanked them for their help. "The sky is yours. We will do all we can to assist you in your work," he said.
Nehushtan told reporters that Air Force officials had spent all night planning the foreign teams' efforts. "We prepared an aerial plan in order to contain extinguishing efforts, and we also have a senior firefighting official in the forefront," he said.
The planes are drawing water from the sea in order to cast it on the flames. "We, Israel and the IDF, have also helped various countries in their times of need, whether in earthquakes or fires, and it's nice to see countries coming to our aid," Nehushtan said.
But he evaded questions on why the army was not equipped to handle such disasters. "I suggest that we focus on the fire now and preserve lives, and what needs to be concluded will be concluded later," he said.
Four people fight for their lives
Meanwhile, a different sort of battle was going on in Rambam Hospital in Haifa, where four people injured in the fire fought for their lives. Three are in critical condition, among them Haifa Police Chief Ahuva Tomer.
"Commander Tomer is in critical condition and we do not have any good news as of now," said Professor Rafael Beyar, hospital manager. "She is suffering from severe burns and internal injuries in many places. Needless to say these types of injuries come with complications but we are doing all we can to stabilize her."
Beyar said two others suffered burns on 60% of their bodies, but that the hospital was accustomed to dealing with such injuries. "The next step after stabilization will be skin grafts, and we are currently in touch with family members," he said.
Abu-Kabir forensic institute has so far identified 41 victims, some of whose names have been publicized:
• Oshrat Pinto, 26, Safed
• Ronen Peretz, 34, Ashkelon
• Hagai Jurno, 28, Kiryat Gat
• Roi Biton, 28, Kiryat Gat
• Yakir Suissa, 25, Dimona
• Inbal Amoyal, 26, Dimona
• Siom Tsagai, 31, Netivot
• Kfir Ohana, 30, Ofakim
• Wasim Abu-Rish, 28, Yirka
• Nisher Tapash Adal, 33, Beit Jan
• Misher Vizel Eran, 31, Kiryat Bialik
Of the three battling for their lives in Rambam Hospital is firefighter Danny Hayat, who heads a search and rescue unit in the Afula area. His wife, Hofit, is on her 38th week of pregnancy.
"Danny is strong," Hofit said as she left his room Friday morning. "He will win and he will be with me at our daughter's birth."
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