The IDF's Home Front Command announced at around noon Saturday that the work of foreign firefighting aircraft has yielded significant results and that the deadly blaze in the Carmel mountain range is subsiding.
"The aerial (fire extinguishing) activity appears to be working and the fire is dying down, but is too early to say whether we are close to extinguishing the fire entirely in the coming hours," said the Home Front Command's northern district chief, Colonel Anwar Saad.
IDF Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen. Gabi Ashkenazi said he was not certain firefighters would be able to contain the fire in the Carmel by Saturday night, but stated that "they are gathering all the resources.
"In general, this operation is working well and efficiently, in coordination with the Israel Police and the firefighting system, which is with us on the ground and in the air."
The IDF chief said he had flown over the area and observed the main fire centers. "I hope we'll manage to get the fire to die down in most places. I'm not sure we'll be able to end it today, but we're concentrating all efforts. It's going to take great efforts and we have a lot of work ahead of us," he said.
'Police busy evacuating residents'
Usfiya Mayor Wajiya Kayuf called on residents to leave the village and allow the Russian plane to help the extinguishment efforts, after the fire reached the houses of the community and many of its residents went out to fight the flames themselves. Many of them refused.
Deputy Inspector General Ronny Atiya, commander of the police costal district, stressed that residents returning to the evacuated communities without the police's authorization were causing difficulties for the security forces, who were "too buys dealing with evacuations."
Atiya stressed during the press briefing that the fire broke out in Usfiya on Thursday due to negligence, after a family left explosive materials in the area. The Usfiya mayor said in response, "An investigation is going on, and we'll wait for the results. This morning we asked people who are in danger to leave their homes, and in the evening we'll consult the Education Ministry on whether to open the schools tomorrow."
The woodland inferno, which erupted on Thursday, reached Ein Hod, Nir Etzion and Yemin Orad overnight, causing severe damage to property. The fire also spread to the Hai-Bar nature reserve, whose animals were evacuated.
Seven people suffering from smoke inhalation have been evacuated to hospitals since the morning hours.
Special firefighting aircraft from Turkey, Greece, Cyprus and Britain began dumping sea water and flame retardant on the fire Saturday morning. A special plane from Russia, which is capable of holding up to 42,000 liters of water, also went into action on Saturday.
Internal Security Minister Yitzhak Aharonovitch arrived at the Carmel region at around noon. He visited Nir Etzion and Ein Hod, which was severely damaged in the fire overnight, and thanked firefighters for their efforts.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's office said he asked Russia, Germany, Turkey, Britain, Greece, Cyprus, Spain and Bulgaria for additional assistance.
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