The first of 23 international aircraft carrying firefighters, supplies and fire retardant chemicals landed at the Ramat David Israel Air Force base in northern Israel today after the country's fire chief admitted publicly to have lost control over the blazing fire.
The Greek plane, the first of five which are expected from the country, brought much needed fire retardant supplies and additional firefighting forces who will join Israeli fire crews battling the uncontrolled Carmel forest fire. According to the Army Radio, in addition to the four Greek aircrafts, four others are expected to arrive from France, three from Britain, two from Spain, two from Russia, two from Turkey, two from Cyprus, two from Bulgaria and one from Croatia and Azerbaijan each to prevent the fire from spreading further.
Meanwhile, mass evacuations continued across northern Israel today morning as dry easterly winds fanned a massive bushfire towards the city of Haifa after having engulfed almost 20,000 dunams of pine forest. Over 15,000 residents, including 600 prison inmates, were evacuated as the blaze raged out of control forcing the fire chiefs to publicly admit to the same.
The situation is said to have arisen from an illegal landfill site. Firefighters said the blaze had reached major traffic artery linking the north with Tel Aviv, but that they had succeeded in stopping the blaze from spreading further. Earlier, 40 people were killed when a bus carrying prison service trainees to assist in the evacuation was engulfed by fire after a falling tree blocked its path.
Elsewhere, at least two more fire crew were reported missing, while the Haifa district police chief was among the injured. Across the region, traffic crawled to a standstill, with black smoke and flames visible for miles around.
The blaze broke out shortly before lunchtime and spread rapidly across the tinder-dry Carmel countryside, left parched after the hottest November in Israel in 60 years. One of the first residential areas to be evacuated was Kibbutz Beit Oren, where all 400 residents reached safety before the entire collective farm was razed.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said that evacuations would continue and that authorities would take no risks where civilian lives were in danger.
"Evacuations will be conducted as needed, with sufficient advance warning. We do not want any more injuries," Netanyahu, who called an emergency cabinet meeting today said. Police also evacuated prisoners from Prison 6 and Carmel Prison, as well as students in Haifa University dormitories, who were transferred to a nearby high school. Some 200 patients from the Tirat Hacarmel psychiatric hospital were also evacuated.