Supertanker in action over Carmel region
Photo: Ido Becker
Fire under control soon. Netanyahu
Photo: Avi Ohayon, GPO

Assessment: Carmel fire nearing its end

Largest firefighting aircraft lands in Israel overnight, begins dumping water, flame retardant chemicals on inferno in north. Netanyahu halts arrival of additional planes after amid reports that blaze will be contained soon

Following a meeting with Israel Air Force commander Major General Ido Nehushtan and Fire Service chief Shimon Romah on Sunday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu decided to halt the arrival of additional firefighting airplanes to Israel.


His decision was based on the estimation that the deadly inferno in the Mount Carmel region will be under control soon, and therefore no additional international aid will be needed.


Police officials said that as of 2:30 pm there were no major wildfire sources in the north, but only small ones that are being attended to by firefighters.  


A giant American aircraft joined the battle against the worst fire in Israel's history Sunday morning.


As fires swept through the hills around the northern city of Haifa for a fourth day, hopes were high that the arrival in Israel in the early hours of a rented Boeing Supertanker, the largest aerial firefighting plane in the world, would finally tip the balance in the struggle to put out the flames.



The plane was dumping water and flame retardant chemicals on the Carmel hills. Residents were asked to close windows and turn on the air-conditioner as long as the aircraft is operating.


Prime Minister Netanyahu said that unlike aircraft already on the scene, the Supertanker was able to operate at night, a potentially decisive quality.


"The pilots and firefighters do exceptional work but night falls and the wind-fanned embers return to life, so the ability to operate at night is very significant," Netanyahu told a news conference in Haifa.


Use of the plane is costing Israel hundreds of thousands of dollars.


The commander of the Nevatim Air Force base said the aircraft is expected to "contribute significantly to the fire extinguishing efforts."


"We've concluded the first sortie and the plane is heading back to Ben-Gurion Airport. We dropped some 40,000 liters of water north of Ein Hod and in the Nir Etzion area. I can say with caution that we see a lot of smoke but less and less sources of fire," said the senior officer, who was on board the flight to assist with technical matters.


Thirteen fire and rescue personnel were said to be in mild to moderate condition after being exposed to the flame retardant material. They were evacuated to the Carmel Medical Center in Haifa.  


As the massive operation to contain the inferno continued, police said they had arrested two youths from the Druze village of Usfiya on suspicion of starting the fire "through negligence" by leaving behind burning embers after a family picnic.


On the ground, hundreds of firefighters worked round the clock -- some 450 Israelis backed up by 92 firemen from Bulgaria and a number from Jordan.


More than 30 firefighting aircraft were flying sorties over the forest and scrub early on Sunday, Israeli media reported.


More were expected to arrive during the day -- five from Spain, three from the United States and one from Germany, Netanyahu's office said.


Help was also on its way from the other side of the world as Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard said her government was sending firefighters, including some with expertise from last year's deadly bushfires in Victoria.


Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas too pledged assistance, drawing an expression of appreciation from Netanyahu.


US President Barack Obama promised 45 tons of fire retardant as well as 12,000 liters of class A foam to help battle the blaze, as well as experts and firefighting equipment, a White House aide said.


The fire has claimed 41 lives and forced more than 17,000 people out of their homes.


Yair Altman, Ronen Medzini, Dr. Itay Gal and AFP contributed to the report



פרסום ראשון: 12.05.10, 12:03
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