Wildfires in Israel force tens of thousands to evacuate

Firefighters have been battling a rash of fires since November 21.

Since Monday November 21 many wildfires have broken out in Israel, forcing 60,000 residents to flee from the coastal city of Haifa as the fire spread into the center of the metropolis.

Normally this time of the year the country would be entering their rainy season but the fires are occurring during a two-month drought. The situation has been worsened this week by strong dry winds making the fires more resistant to control.

Gilad Erdan, Israel’s public security minister, told reporters that almost half the fires were the result of arson. The term “pyro-terrorism” has been thrown around loosely in various articles, but that has not been confirmed by an authoritative source.

The fires slowed on Friday enabling some evacuees to return to their homes.

The Israeli newspaper Haaretz reported that the Israeli Air Force is using 10 drones to detect fires and spot suspected arsonists.

The 747 Supertanker has been contracted by the Israeli government and after a 12.5-hour non-stop flight landed in Tel Aviv at about 10:25 a.m. MST on Friday.

Global Supertanker Services sent two complete flight crews with the air tanker, President and CEO Jim Wheeler said. Each crew consists of two pilots and a drop system operator. In addition there were four maintenance and ground personnel, one supervisor, and Bob Soelberg, Program Manager for Global Supertanker, who will liaise with the Israeli government.

747 Supertanker
The 747 Supertanker at its home base in Colorado Springs, May 4, 2016. Photo by Bill Gabbert.

The 747 can drop retardant, foam, gel, or other fire suppressants.

This is not the first time a Supertanker has mobilized to Israel. In December 2010 the first generation of the aircraft dropped on the Mt. Carmel Fire in which 44 prison guards in a bus were killed after being trapped by the fire. The supertanker was one of 30 firefighting aircraft that were dispatched at that time from countries all over the world, including six Modular Airborne FireFighting System (MAFFS) air tankers from the U.S. military. The assistance from the MAFFS was approved and arranged late in the incident. Some never took off and others were turned around at a refueling stop in the Azores.

Since the deadly Mt. Carmel fire Israel has substantially beefed up their fire aviation resources and now have 14 Single Engine Air Tankers under contract supplied by Elbit Systems and Chim Nir Flight Services. The SEATs have their place in the firefighter’s tool box, but the 747 carries far more than all of their SEATs combined.

In June Israel loaned three of their SEATs to Cyprus to help suppress large fires near Paphos and Evrychou. Now they are on the receiving end as firefighting aircraft are arriving from the U.S., Greece, Cyprus, Croatia, Italy, and Turkey. In addition, Russia sent two water scooping Be-200 air tankers. One can be seen scooping in the video at the top of the page.

In spite of a report in a major east coast newspaper, the U.S. National Interagency Fire Center has not received any orders for firefighting resources. But, according to BLM spokesperson Randall Eardley, there have been some discussions about crew availability. Jessica Gardetto of the BLM said the Pentagon has inquired about the process for sending assistance internationally.

The weather forecast for Tel Aviv calls for warm, dry, and sunny weather through the weekend with 6 to 8 mph winds out of the northeast and relative humidities in the teens. For the 7 days after that the humidity will 33 to 57 percent with stronger winds on Wednesday through Friday.

Wildland firefighter LODDs, 2010

At Wildfire Today we try to keep track of the line of duty deaths (LODD) of firefighters working on wildland fires. The past year, 2010, again produced a lengthy list of firefighters who passed away while doing their job. We make no claim that it is a complete or official tally. If you are aware of any that we missed, let us know. Some of the dates are approximate and may be the date of the report of the fatality. The last three incidents are gray areas, in that the victims were not all firefighters, or were not necessarily actively involved in fire suppression at the time of the incident. They were included because they were very significant incidents.

At the end of the list is a report from the U.S. Fire Administration providing their statistics on the number of LODDs for 2010.

January 11. Australia. A firefighter was killed and four others were injured when their fire truck rolled over while they were responding to a grass fire at Lake Mokoan near Benalla in northeast Victoria, Australia. (map)

April 11. Kansas.  A firefighter was overcome by smoke and died while working on a fire west of Peru.

April 24. New Brunswick, Canada. A pilot from Grand Falls, with Forest Protection Ltd., was conducting a practice flight in a water bomber when the plane crashed shortly after taking off from the airport.

June 23. Washington. The chief of the Franklin Fire District 4 in Basin City, Washington, was killed when a snow cat that had been converted to a fire apparatus rolled about 100 feet down a hill while he was working on a vegetation fire.

July 30. Russia. Wildfires in Russia killed at least 25 people including 2 firefighters, and destroyed over 1,000 homes. Some reports say three firefighters died in the fires.

July 31. Canada. An air tanker crashed while working on a fire in British Columbia. The Convair 580, operated by Conair, went down in central B.C. The two pilots were killed.

August 2. Arkansas. A firefighter was operating an Arkansas Forestry Commission 2002 International tractor trailer, and was en route to check on the status of an earlier fire. The tractor trailer load reportedly shifted causing the vehicle to cross the roadway center line, go into a ditch and then overturn.

August 11. Portugal. Civil protection officials said a female firefighter died, one fireman was badly burned and their team had to be evacuated when they found themselves surrounded by flames after a sudden change in the direction of the wind in Gondomar region. On Monday, a fireman was killed and another seriously injured when their truck fell into a burning ravine in the mountainous Sao Pedro do Sul area.

August 13. Spain. Two firefighters were been killed in wildfires. The blazes hit near the village of Fornelos de Montes in the country’s northwestern Galicia region, close to the border with Portugal, where several forest fires are still raging.

September 21. Spain. A 46-year old firefighter died while extinguishing a wildfire in Senes.

September 24. Ohio. A firefighter was killed when a pressurized tank failed and he was struck by debris.

September 24. Virginia. A firefighter collapsed and later died while working on a fire in New Church, Virginia off Route 13.

November 16. South Carolina. A firefighter was suppressing a grass fire in the median of Interstate 20 when a van rear-ended a sedan as they approached the fire scene. The sedan was pushed into two parked fire trucks causing them to crash into a firefighter, causing his death.

November 23. California. One inmate was killed and 12 were injured when their crew carrier vehicle was involved in a head-on accident. Three of the injured were in critical condition. The elderly driver of the other vehicle was also killed. As far as we know the inmate crew was not assigned to a fire at the time of the crash.

December 5. China. A massive wildfire in Tibet’s Sichuan province killed 22 people, including Chinese soldiers during a rescue operation. Of the 22 killed, 15 were soldiers, two were workers with the grassland administration, and five others were local civilians.

December 6. Israel. At least one of the 43 government employees that were killed in the Carmel Mountain fire in Israel was a police officer. The Police Chief in Haifa (Israel) died in the Line of Duty from her burn injuries after 4 days of hospitalization. She was the first ever woman police chief there, and was gravely injured in the Carmel forest fire, while driving along with the bus full of Prison Service cadets that burned and killed the cadets as well.

Below is the The U.S. Fire Administration’s report of the on-duty firefighter fatalities in 2010. Click on FullScreen to see a larger version.

Continue reading “Wildland firefighter LODDs, 2010”

Update on fires in Israel, December 6, 2010

Israel firefighters

Now that firefighters in Israel are controlling the fires, the three Type 1 hand crews from the United States will not be responding after all. The 41 BLM and 19 U.S. Forest Service firefighters had been scheduled to depart from Boise on a military aircraft at noon on Sunday, but they were put on standby at Boise early Sunday morning. Today, Monday, the order was cancelled.

FirefighterCloseCalls has information about an additional fatality during the fire in Israel:

It is with deep regret that we advise you that the Police Chief in Haifa (Israel) Ahuva Tomer, has died in the Line of Duty from her burn injuries after 4 day hospitalization. Tomer, who was the first ever woman police chief there, was gravely injured in the now under control Carmel forest fire, while driving along with that bus full of Prison Service cadets that burned and killed the cadets as well. She has been fighting for her life since, and doctors even reported a change for the better, but on this morning her condition became dire and she succumbed to her wounds. She oversaw a command of 500 police officers. As always, our sincere condolences.

As far as we know, none of  the MAFFS air tankers deployed from U.S. Air National Guard and Air Force Reserve bases made it to Israel, because the fires were mostly controlled before they arrived. Wildfire Today talked with Ann Skarban at the 302nd Airlift Wing at Peterson Air Force Base in Colorado Springs who told us that their two C-130 MAFFS 2-equipped air tankers departed from their base on Saturday. After they arrived at a scheduled crew rest and refueling stop at Lajes Field in the Azores (map) they were told to stand by there. They spent Sunday in the Azores, then were told Monday morning that their order for the fire had been cancelled and should return to Colorado.  Ms. Skarban was not sure, but thought the other four to six MAFFS C-130’s from bases in South Carolina, Wyoming, and California had similar fates.

We talked with Lt. Col. Rose Dunlap of the 145th Airlift Wing at Charlotte, SC who told us that they received an order for their two MAFFS air tankers. One never made it off the ground; the other departed but was cancelled soon after it took off.

The Christian Science Monitor has an article that compares the fire in Israel with some other large fires around the world.

Boston.com has a regular feature called The Big Picture, which frequently has outstanding photographs of emerging events. Now they have a great collection of 35 photos of the fires in Israel. Be advised, that one has a warning about graphic content, and if you click on it you’ll see bodies of people that were burned to death on the bus that became entrapped. Close to 40 people died in the bus incident.

The blame game gets into full swing in Israel.

Now Lebanon is the hot spot
Continue reading “Update on fires in Israel, December 6, 2010”

Firefighters make progress on fires in Israel

747 dropping in Israel
747 Supertanker dropping retardant in Ein Hod in the Carmel Forest on the outskirts of Haifa, Israel, on Dec. 5. Photo: Jack Guez

The word “control” is being used in Israel in describing the state of the fires that have killed over 40 people and blackened at least 9,000 acres. Fire official Boaz Rakia told reporters Sunday evening: “The fire department has declared that the fire is under control.” He added that the small fires are still burning in some places. Earlier on Sunday the Police announced that all of the major fires in the northern part of Israel were contained at 4:30 p.m., 77 hours after the largest fire started on Thursday.

Police also said there have been 20 attempts at wildfire arson over the previous 48 hours and four people have been arrested.

The United States’ National Interagency Fire Center has three Type 1 crews and some overhead sitting in Boise. They were going to depart on a military aircraft Sunday at noon but are being held “pending reassessment of situation on Monday”, according to a Tweet from @BLMNIFC at 9:03 a.m. Sunday. Other fire resources that were being mobilized out of the Northwest and Northern regions were canceled Saturday night and Sunday morning. Custer’s National Incident Management Team is already in Israel and should be operational on Sunday.

The 30+ firefighting aircraft that have swarmed into Israel to help suppress the fires will be held until Monday. Six U.S. Air National Guard MAFFS air tankers were scheduled to depart, I believe, Sunday morning for Israel, but it appears from the reports coming out of that country that they will not be needed.

747 air tanker dropping in Israel
The 747 Supertanker drops on the fire in Israel on December 5, 2010. Photo: Jerusalem Post

Evergreen’s 747 Supertanker, Air Tanker 979, arrived in Israel Saturday evening local time and completed two sorties on Sunday. Below are some quotes from the Jerusalem Post about the aircraft:
Continue reading “Firefighters make progress on fires in Israel”

Israeli fires: US aircraft respond, 2 suspects arrested

(Scroll to the bottom to see updates on this article.)

Flames Israel nightTwo suspects have been arrested and accused of negligence in starting the large fire in the Carmel area of Israel that has burned over 9,800 acres and killed about 41 people. Authorities did not specify exactly how the fire started or elaborate on the “negligence”.

Most of the fatalities occurred when a bus load of prison system employees on the way to evacuate a prison became entrapped when a highway was blocked by a fallen tree. The bus and another vehicle behind it were engulfed in flames.

The fires have forced about 17,000 to evacuate their homes, as well as three jails, a university, and a hospital.

As the flames are blackening about half of Israel’s national forest, the criticism mounts of the inadequate state of the country’s firefighting capacity. There have been calls for resignations and investigations.

At least 12 countries are sending aid to Israel to help combat the fires, which we detailed HERE. The Israli Air Force is expecting at least 25 firefighting aircraft, including the American 747 Supertanker, Air Tanker 979, owned by Evergreen. It is expected to land at Ben Gurion International Airport at 4:11 MT today. After crew rest, the 747 may be available for operations on Sunday, if Evergreen’s schedule holds up.

The United States is sending three at least six C-130 aircraft with Modular Airborne Firefighting Systems (MAFFS) from Wyoming Air National Guard’s 153rd Airlift Wing in Cheyenne, Wyoming; 145th Airlift Wing of the North Carolina Air National Guard in Charlotte, N.C.;  the 146th Airlift Wing of the California Air National Guard in Port Hueneme, Calif.; and the 302nd Airlift Wing Air Force Reserve unit at Peterson Air Force Base in Colorado. Two other military planes are ferrying firefighting supplies to Israel.

The United States is also sending Custer’s National Incident Management Organization (NIMO) Team, 45 metric tons of Fire-Trol fire retardant and 12,000 liters of WD881 Class A foam. The fire retardant is being flown to Israel by U.S. military C-130’s and aircraft chartered by the U.S. Agency for International Development.

Here is a map of the fire in the Carmel forest area of Israel.

FirefighterCloseCalls has some details about one of the firefighter fatalities:

Continue reading “Israeli fires: US aircraft respond, 2 suspects arrested”