Firefighters and an international force of water-dumping planes were still battling last night to bring the worst forest fire in Israel's history under control. The fire has killed 42 so far, and impelled the evacuation of 17,000 people in several communities. Residents in two other communities were led from their homes yesterday. Some refused to go, including one woman in the small artist community of Ein Hod who tried to hold back the advancing flames with a garden hose.
The fire is cutting a swathe through the Carmel Forest, an area of woodland much valued in a country where only 7 per cent of the land has tree cover. So far, 15 square miles have been destroyed, small by most countries' standards.
Until now, arson was thought to be the cause but yesterday Israeli police said, in a classically opaque statement, that "negligence" was more likely. They declined to elaborate. Some sources said an abandoned campfire was a possibility, and the family who started it are now under investigation. Yesterday, planes from Britain, Cyprus, Turkey and Greece dumped sea water and flame retardant on the fires. Egypt and Jordan have sent equipment, and aircraft from France and the US were due to arrive late yesterday.
Most of the 42 who died were trainee prison officers on a bus engulfed by flames as they headed towards a jail to help evacuate 500 inmates. The young guards were from several of Israel's diverse communities: Arabs, Israelis of Russian and Ethiopian descent, and Jews of Middle Eastern descent. They included young women about to be married and men who left behind widows.Reuse content