Defense Minister Ehud Barak on Sunday toured Kibbutz Beit Oren, which was severely damaged over the weekend by the wildfire raging in the Mount Carmel region.
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"This is a major disaster. There is heavy damage here," he said. "From conversations with friends I've known for 50 years, from the days in the Paratroopers' Brigade, I learned that the fire burned down many houses until firefighting crews arrived."
Smoke was still billowing from a number of locations in the kibbutz, which is surrounded by thousands of trees that were destroyed in the deadly blaze.
Addressing the area's rehabilitation, Barak promised that "the State will cover any cost that the insurance won't."
Zeev Shabtai, a member of Kibbutz Beit Oren who accompanied his old acquaintance, said, "My son and I, along with 10 of our friends, prevented the fire from reaching additional homes with our bodies.
"Had we listened to the fire and rescue personnel, who asked that we evacuate prior to their arrival, the entire kibbutz would have been burned to the ground. Only we know where all the gas tanks are," he said.
Barak was expected to visit several other communities in the area before heading to Tirat Hacarmel, where the cabinet will hold its weekly meeting.
The wildfire has claimed the lives of 41 people.
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