Carmel Fire: 40 Dead, Dozens Wounded, Arson Suspected

For most in Israel Chanukah is a time of joy with games, presents, good food and fun.  But for 40 families, there will be no joyful Chanukah this year. Arson is suspected, and if arson turns out to be a fact, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said this is “a disaster of a scope that we are not familiar with.”

Dozens of security personnel, many from the Israel Prisons Service, perished in the fire that has been raging on the Carmel Mountain since Thursday morning. Twenty two people were confirmed dead by 7:00 PM Thursday and 14 more bodies were reported found shortly after 10:00 PM. The total number of dead is estimated at 40.

36 out of the 40 victims were IPS cadets, most of them Druze, who were in their 20’s. They were being transported on a bus after assisting in the evacuation of the Damon Prison. At a certain point the fire began spreading at great speed – covering a mile in five minutes, according to a firefighting officer – and the bus was caught in the flames with no chance of getting out.

The names of seven of the cadets were released early on Friday morning:

* Topaz Even Chen Klein (29) from Rechovot
* Maor Ganon (29) from Gan Yavne
* Kfit Ohana (30) from Ofakim
* Siyum Tzagi (31) from Netivot
* Yakir Swissa (28) from Dimona
* Hagai Jorno (28) from Kiryat Gat
* Oshrat Pinto (26) from Tzfat

Their funerals will take place on Friday.

Two policemen, a volunteer firefighter and another man were killed in the blaze as well. Among the people who were injured in the blaze is Lt.-Col. Ahuva Tomer, Commander of Haifa Police, who is in serious condition in Rambam Hospital after suffering burns.

Early on Friday morning it was confirmed that the process of notifying the families of the victims has been completed. Concurrently, the process of identifying bodies continues at the Institute of Forensic Medicine at Abu Kabir.

This is the largest and deadliest fire since Israel’s founding in 1948, and possibly also the worst terror attack in its history, if suspicion of arson is confirmed. Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu said Thursday evening that the fire on the Carmel range is “a disaster of a scope that we are not familiar with.”

Conflicting reports
Minister of Public Security Yitzchak Aharonovich said Thursday evening that the fire is under “currently under control,” but Fire Services Spokesman Hezi Levy said the opposite. The fire, he said, is out of control and is raging in three major locations: the Druze village of Usefiya, Beit Oren, and Nir Etzion.

Residents of religious kibbutz Nir Etzion, the Ein Hod artists’ village and the nearby Arab village Ein Hud have been instructed to leave their homes, after it was determined that the fire might reach the communities.

The residents of Kibbutz Beit Oren and Usefiyeh were evacuated earlier in the day, as were the students of Haifa University, which is somewhat further away. Several homes in Usefiya have been burnt to the ground. Haifa University has been closed down until further notice.

The Brosh neighborhood in Tirat HaCarmel and a mental health hospital in Tirat HaCarmel were also evacuated. Early on Friday morning, several streets in the Haifa neighborhood of Denia were also evacuated due to concerns that the flames would reach the neighborhood.

A resident of Beit Oren told Channel 2 news that several homes in the kibbutz burned down. Firefighters’ spokesman Levy called Beit Oren “the former kibbutz of Beit Oren” in an evening interview, and said most of the homes in the comnmunity had been damaged.

Arson likely
Channel 2 reporter Yossi Mizrachi said that the way in which the fire spread indicated that the blaze erupted from three locations simultaneously — making arson a likely possibility.

The fire broke out around 10:00 AM this morning in an illegal garbage dump in the Carmel Mountains.

Ongoing rescue and fire-fighting efforts are said to be nearly impossible given the physical conditions of the mountains, smoke, dry conditions and winds.

The trapped bus is said to have departed from the Damon Prison, apparently as part of the attempt to evacuate the prison in the face of the fast-spreading fire.

The Damon jail mostly holds Arabs who were caught illegally entering Israel from the Palestinian Authority. According to IDF Radio, however, the bus was “not a prisoner bus.”

If proven to be arson, then this will be the worst terrorist attack in Israel’s history.  As I am writting this, 15,000 residents have been evacuated from Haifa, every firefighter in the country is working to fight this fire including members of the IDF, the nations of Britain, France, Romania, Greece, Egypt, Turkey,Jordan,  Cyprus, Spain, Croatia, Azerbaijan and Russia are sending help.   The Mayor of New York City is sending fire retardant chemicals, while President Obama sent his condolences to the families.

Today is a National Day of Mourning for Israel.  Prayers for the Dead, for the Firefighters and for very much needed rain are being said.

Some time during today please say a prayer for Israel and the brave men and women fighter this battle.

Posted by findalis at Monkey in the Middle