42 people were killed in what Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called an “unprecedented disaster”. A fire which started in the Carmel Ridge and Alon Valley in northern Israel devoured about 7 million trees, creating damage which will take at least a decade to recover from. Hundreds of acres used by Israel’s largest banana plantations, owned by Kibbutz Hahotarim, Kibbutz Ein HaCarmel (which jointly own Coastal Bananas Ltd.) and Kibbutz Beit Oren were destroyed.
More than 17,000 people were evacuated from their homes. All in all, one-third of the hilly pine Carmel Forest which clings to the mountain ridge above Israel’s third-largest city, Haifa. A rough count of 250 private homes were destroyed in the fire, while houses and other structures on Kibbutz Beit Oren and Kibbutz Yemin Orde, as well as the artists’ village of Ein Hod turned into ash and rubble.
Negligence, not arson, is said to have caused the vicious forest blaze – by far the worst in Israel’s history – which broke out on Thursday and was not extinguished until Sunday, over 82 hours since its ignition.
For years, Israeli firefighters have complained of undersized crews, outdated equipment and insufficient supplies. The country only has 1,400 firefighters, which is far below the worldwide average. Despite a highly sophisticated air force, Israel doesn’t have a single firefighting plane. It actually ran out of flame retardants on the first day of the disaster.
Replying to emergency cries for help, firefighting aircrafts were sent in from Bulgaria, Greece, Jordan, Turkey, Russia, Cyprus and Britain – and further aid was offered by the Egyptians, Jordanians and the Palestinians.
Jon Donnison of the BBC’s Jerusalem bureau noted:
“Israel’s emergency services have not had to handle an operation on sunch a scale since the war in Lebanon in 2006.”