The State Comptroller's report, which was published on Sunday, reveals that local authorities and emergency services didn’t implement the lessons learned from the 2010 Mount Carmel Forest Fire, in which 44 people were killed, some 17,000 evacuated from their homes, and 25 dunams of forest were scorched.
The report, composed by retired judge Yosef Shapira, addresses the fire preparedness and conduct of local authorities during the five consecutive days of fires that wreaked havoc throughout the country in November 2016.
According to the report, 97% of the fires victims' claims have been processed, and NIS 260 million, out of the compensation fund, were transferred to the fires' victims.
According to the comptroller, the 2016 spate of fires was the largest and most expensive wave of fires in Israel's history in terms of damage done to property and the environment. The fires consumed more than 10,000 acres (41,000 dunams) of land and about 1,900 homes were damaged. The damages and costs of managing the disaster amounted to at least NIS 647 million.
The report was published, unintentionally or not, exactly eight years after the Mount Carmel Forest Fire. In the wake of the disaster, the comptroller published a special report in which he hoped that "the cost of loss of life paid by 44 young men and women will help prevent similar disasters in the future." However, he added, "applying the lessons learned from the tragedy is but a small comfort."
The report's findings prove that local authorities and emergency services did not implement the lessons learned from the Carmel Forest Fire and failed to make the necessary adjustments dictated by the previous Comptroller's report.
Among the failures described in the review, it seems that although forest fire protection regulations were formulated in 2014, in the absence of agreement between government ministries, they have not yet been approved. This means that the National Fire & Rescue Authority cannot direct local authorities to prepare for fire prevention or supervise the implementation of its provisions.
In addition, the comptroller warned about the authorities' failures in dealing with high-rise buildings' fires, which may turn into "death traps" for the buildings' residents. The installment of fire alarms and extinguishing systems is mandatory in these buildings, but no instructions have been set regarding their maintenance and inspection.
Moreover, significant failures were found in the local authorities' preparedness for large-scale fires. Among other things, local authorities failed to devise a broad fire defense plan. Some local authorities didn't prepare buffer zones and escape routes, failed to set up sufficient water infrastructures and didn't practice their emergency fire protocol. Additionally, the report reveals that due to lack of permits, some fire and rescue personnel were denied access to fire areas, and as a result, were unable to carry out their duties properly.
"The draft version of the fire protection regulations has been completed several years ago, but has yet to be implemented. The minister asked the comptroller to get involved in this issue.
Fire safety regulations in high-rise buildings must be set and maintenance and inspection supervision must be routinely administered. In addition, the Ministry of Public Security's emergency department is currently formulating and implementing a national emergency plan for dealing with a multi-faceted wave of fires," the Ministry of Public Security said in a statement.