A massive brush fire is blazing across northern Israel in the Carmel Mountains above Haifa. So far at least 40 have perished in the fire, along with much property.
The fire appears to be traveling unabated northeast toward the city of Haifa. Areas on the outskirts of the city are being evacuated, while others are being warned to stay indoors and seal windows as smoke encroaches. As of now, more than 12,000 have been evacuated from the region; Carmel hospital has also been evacuated.
Haifa is a seaside city, one of Israel’s most cosmopolitan. It is an area where Jewish and Arab residents of Israel have lived and worked side by side for decades. It is also the home of the Baha’i Temple and its magnificent gardens overlooking the Mediterranean Sea.
The wildfire, described by some officials as a firestorm, began in the forested Carmel mountains near the Druze village of Osafia, in one of the most beautiful mountain areas of the country, often called “Little Switzerland.” The fires are being fueled by heavy winds and dry tinder; rain has barely fallen there for more than eight months.
Israel’s fire services are overwhelmed by the fire, the likes of which the tiny nation has never before experienced. Several Arab villages and Kibbutz Beit Oren reportedly have been consumed by flames.
The U.S. Forest Service has a 747 enroute with fire-suppression equipment and several Middle Eastern and European nations have already pledged assistance with firefighting equipment, including Egypt, Cypress, Turkey, France, Greece and Spain and Croatia. More countries are also likely to pitch in.
With some irony, Israeli President Shimon Peres commented, “If there is something we can say, it is that those involved in this difficult event are exhibiting true bravery that symbolizes the holiday of Chanukah.”