Carmel wildfire contained after 77 hours
More than three days after initial blaze began near Druze village of Usfiya, firefighting authorities declare they have managed to gain control of biggest fire in Israel's history. Extinguishing operations to continue in coming days in bid to prevent fire from re-erupting
The Carmel firefighters were preparing for another night of activity aimed at preventing the fire from re-erupting in certain areas, with the hopes that rain would start raining at around 4 am, according to the weather forecast, and help the extinguishing operations.
The police have authorized the evacuated residents of Nir Etzion, Ein Hod and Ein Hawd to return to their homes. Residents of Beit Oren are still ordered to stay away from their homes.
Amir Levy, commander of the western Galilee firefighting services said there was a lot of work left. "There are still dozens of small locations which have not been fully put out. The firefighting forces will operate near those communities and in strategic points in order to prevent the fire from re-erupting."
The fire, considered the biggest civilian disaster in the State of Israel's history, claimed the lives of 41 people, most of them in a bus carrying Israel Prison Service cadets on their way to evacuate prisoners from the Damon Prison.
According to the Magen David Adom rescue services, 33 people were injured in the fire – three sustained critical and serious wounds, three are in moderate condition, and the rest were lightly hurt.
The fire has destroyed more than 50,000 dunam (12,300 acres) of land and damaged three communities. More than 5 million trees have been burned, 74 buildings burned down ion Kibbutz Beit Oren, Ein Hod, and the Yamon-Ord boarding school, and 173 building were partially burned.
Close to 17,000 people were evacuated from their homes, from Israel Prison Service facilities, from hospitals and military jails in the past three days due to the fire.
Signs of optimism
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said several minutes before the announcement, "I think we are about to gain control." He halted the arrival of addition planes from foreign countries, after consulting with Israel Air Forces Commander Ido Nehushtan and Fire Commissioner Shimon Romach.
"We will know more tonight, and we may use the Supertanker tonight. We'll operate it in a bid to put the fire out once and for all."
Firefighting efforts at Hai-Bar nature reserve (Photo: Dror Einav)
Netanyahu, who met with senior Druze officials in Usfiya, preferred to look on the bright side. "In other countries, big fires took longer. We have been asked, 'How can you put out a big fire in less than three days, while it takes other countries three weeks?' My response was, 'We have no other country, and it's a very small country.'
"The government's mission, the firefighters' mission, the IDF's mission, the Air Forces' mission is one – saving our small country, our Carmel. I hope we will get there today. This is the land of all of us."
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.
Hagai Einav contributed to this report
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