But nothing prepared him for Thursday's disaster at the Carmel region. "I had never seen such a big fire – an intimidating wall of flames," he says.
"On Thursday morning, several hours before the fire erupted, I completed a 24-hour shift," Abu-Gharbia recounts. "I went home to rest, and at around 4 pm I was updated about the wildfire on Mount Carmel. I was told to be on the alert and put on my uniform. Half an hour later we were instructed to come to the main station and go up north."
Fire raging on Mount Carmel (Photo: Shlomi Nissim)
When he arrived at one of the fire spots on the Carmel, he was shocked. "I had never seen such a big fire. The flames could be seen from miles away, while we were still travelling on Route 6."
During the interview he recounted the efforts to battle the fire, which refused to die down. "The flames were 15 and 20-meters (49 and 65-feet) high, creating a terrifying wall of fire. From 40 meters (131 feet) away the heat was unbearable. We used water hoses with high pressure, wearing fire helmets so as not to burn our faces, and yet no one could stand the heat more than a few minutes.
"We worked group after group, escorted by an officer, going up to the fire zone, trying to put the fire out for two hours and then being replaced. It was also the only time we built paths of fire free of flora, wet them and saw the flames of fire cross the lines of defense once and again as if we were not there."
'We prevented a disaster'
Despite the great frustration they felt during the extinguishing efforts, Abu-Gharbia and his friends recorded some local successes. "One of the good things I remember is that we managed to stop the flames from reaching the psychiatric hospital for a few minutes until the police evacuated all the patients from there. We didn't think we would succeed, but we managed to prevent a disaster while risking our lives."
After fighting the raging flames for 15 consecutive hours, Abu-Gharbia and his friends returned to Jerusalem. Upon their arrival, they discovered there had a lot of work ahead, this time because of fires in Jerusalem.
"We were busy putting out fires all day Saturday, some caused by negligence and some by arson. We were exhausted, but we performed our work."
His work did not end there. At 5:30 am Abu-Gharbia was called in for another mission – putting out a fire at the United Nations headquarters near the French Hill neighborhood.
"We broke into a storeroom which was ablaze and began the extinguishing operations," he says. "Several minutes later, after we put out the fire on the first floor, we went up to the second floor with another team. The wooden floor was burning and the entire corridor was filled with smoke, so I couldn't find my way. At a certain stage the floor collapsed under me and I found myself falling down together with burning pieces into a room on the first floor, where there was no fire, luckily."
Abu-Gharbia was injured in his hands and legs and evacuated to a hospital by his friends. "It's important that hikers ensure that they are not leaving anything behind which could cause a fire. We live in a warm, dry country, and we should protect the little green we still have left," he says.
Asked about politics, Abu-Gharbia responds immediately: "A firefighter's job is to save human life regardless of religion, nationality or politics. I think people understand it. A firefighter's job transcends borders and is bigger than politics."
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