Tags: Day of Mourning | Isarel | blaze

Netanyahu Declares Day of Mourning Over Blaze That Killed 40 Prison Workers

Thursday, 02 Dec 2010 05:49 PM


An inferno that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu described as an “unprecedented disaster” killed 40 prison wardens in a bus fire and was spreading in the Carmel Mountain region, leaving dozens injured.


"I will declare this a day of mourning," Netanyahu said before departing for Northern Israel, which was in a state of emergency on Thursday night as the worst fire in the country's history incinerated everyone on the bus and destroyed thousands upon thousands of acres of forests.


As the flames spread at astonishing speeds, fed by parched forest lands that had not seen rain for eight months, fire crews battling the blazes were completely overwhelmed by the disaster, and several towns and villages, including Ussafiya, were evacuated for fear that the fire would engulf them too. An urgent order was put out by Fire and Rescue Commissioner Shimon Romach calling on all fire crews in the country to mobilize to the North and assist in the efforts to control the flames.


“If we don't get foreign assistance tonight, I doubt we will be able to control fire, and it will stop only at shores of the Mediterranean,” warned Haifa firefighter spokesman Hezi Levi.

Kibbutz Bet Oren has reportedly been largely destroyed by the flames after it was evacuated. Police closed off Route 4 near Atlit, sealing off a central artery connecting the North to the South for fear that motorists would be injured by spreading flames, and evacuated the villages of Ein Hod, Ein Hud and Nir Etzion.

The Kele 6 Prisons facility in Tirat Hakarmel was also evacuated.

Emergency officials were evaluating the situation on Thursday night to see if areas of Haifa would also require evacuation.

Netanyahu made an urgent plea to the governments of Cyprus, Greece, Russia and Italy for assistance, and Cypriot and Greek fire planes and crews have been dispatched to Israel to try and contain the fires.

Two hundred rescue officials from the Police's Community Guard branch were mobilized to the North together with jeeps and equipment to search for additional casualties.

Earlier on Thursday, some 40 members of the Prison Service – the majority of whom were new recruits to the Prisons Service – had been dispatched to the Damon Prison near Kibbutz Bet Oren to assist in the evacuation of some 500 prisoners from the facility. The bus however never made it to its destination. It traveled from Atlit to the prison via the winding, mountainous single lane Route 721, before suddenly becoming engulfed in flames, leaving no survivors on board.

A tearful firefighter spokesman said the blaze traveled 1,500 meters in less than three minutes, adding, "The bus had no chance. The passengers tried to escape but were all burned alive. It was a horrific scene."

The fire was very far from the road on which the bus was traveling when it first set off toward the prison but spread far faster than expected, the spokesman said.

The fire critically injured the head of the Haifa Police, Deputy Cmdr. Ahuva Tomer, in the same area. She was evacuated to the Rambam Medical Center suffering from severe burns, and doctors were fighting for her life on Thursday night.

Prisons Service staffers were devastated by the deaths, which amounted to the largest peacetime mass casualty event involving security forces.

“We are still identifying the bodies,” a spokeswoman said. “We're doing all that we can to help the families and offer support to members of staff. This is a disaster for us.”

The IPS dispatched teams of psychologists to hospitals and to the L. Greenberg Institute for Forensic Medicine, where many of the burned bodies were being identified, to offer support. By Thursday evening, not one family had been officially notified that their loved one had been killed because of the slow process of identification.

Police distributed water and food to displaced residents at Tirat Hacarmel. Police Inspector Gen. David Cohen ordered police officers to assist in life-saving rescue operations, identify victims, and oversee evacuation efforts.

Fire Chief Shimon Romach limited the firefighting operation to ground forces after sunset, because fire planes cannot be used at night. "We will not get control of this tonight," he said.


The IDF Home Front Command established a command post near the blaze and was coordinating relief efforts with the Northern Police District. Forces were assisting in evacuating neighborhoods in Tirat Carmel after the fire began to surround the eastern part of the city. Unmanned aerial vehicles also were diverted to the fire to help track its direction.

“This is a major tragedy and our hearts are with the families of the dead,” Defense Minister Ehud Barak said. “The IDF is working to assist rescue service as much as possible to extinguish the fire and has offered all of its available resources.”



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