Middle East
Israel forest fire 'under control'
Evacuated villagers to be allowed to return home after an international firefighting effort reins in deadly blaze.
Last Modified: 06 Dec 2010 06:59 GMT
Palestinian firefighters take part in efforts to extinguish a forest fire near Beit Oren

Palestinian firefighters, dispatched by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, take part in efforts to extinguish a forest fire near Kibbutz Beit Oren, on Mount Carmel near the northern city of Haifa December 5, 2010. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's government faced calls for officials to be sacked over the four-day-old forest fire that has killed 41 people. REUTERS/Amir Cohen (ISRAEL - Tags: DISASTER ENVIRONMENT)
The four-day blaze ravaged about 50 square kilometres of the Carmel forest and killed 41 people [Reuters]

A forest fire that has raged for four days in northern Israel has been brought under control after an international effort to stop the deadly blaze, officials said.

"Our news for this evening is control," Boaz Rakia, an Israeli fire department official, told reporters on Sunday. "The fire department has declared that the fire is under control."

Rakia cautioned that some areas of the Carmel forest were still burning and others could flare up again before the emergency is finally over.

However, he said that most of the thousands of people evacuated from their homes would be able to return in the coming days.

"From our point of view, the danger has passed for all the places that were evacuated," Rakia said. The only exception, he said, was Bet Oren, a collective farming village in the heart of the fire zone, where extensive fire damage made returning impossible for the time being.

Police have arrested two youths from the village of Isfiya on suspicion of starting the blaze "through negligence" by leaving behind burning embers after a family picnic.

The fire, for which Israel has admitted it was woefully underprepared, saw firefighters from around the region and elsewhere arrive to help tackle the flames.

Palestinian assistance

A team of 21 Palestinians was among those who helped bring the fire under control.

"I hope it could be a good opening for co-operation, more humanitarian assistance, and peace," Ibrahim Ayish, the Palestinian team leader, said.

The battle against the fire appears to have been turned by a fleet of international firefighting aircraft, which was bolstered by a giant Boeing 747 Supertanker, the world's largest water-bombing plane, leased from a private US company.

Palestinian firefighters were among those helping to tackle the blaze [Reuters]

By late Sunday morning, the Supertanker was pouring 76,000 litres of water and flame retardant on the fire on each mission.

"I haven't seen any flame for the last hour. It is better than I have seen in the last three days. We definitively have the back of it broken," Euan Johnson, a British helicopter pilot, said at a military base in Haifa.

The fire ravaged about 50 square kilometres of the Carmel forest, an area known as "Little Switzerland" because of its natural beauty, destroying about five million trees. 

Binyamin Netanyahu, the Israeli prime minister, has called for swift action to compensate victims and rehabilitate the area.

"I don't want delays. I don't want red tape. I want processes to be shortened and rapid solutions," he said at the start of the weekly cabinet meeting.

At least 41 people were killed by the fire, most of them prison officers whose bus was trapped by the flames as they were travelling to help evacuate a nearby jail.  

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