The blazing brush fires which consumed Israel in the past week have finally been quenched, but the damage done is staggering, officials say. While Israel downgraded its state of emergency and sent most of its firefighters back to regular duty on Monday, it could take upwards of 30 years for the country to fully recover.
Between November 18 and November 25, firefighters faced 1,773 fires around the country, said Fire Services spokesman Yoram Levy on Monday. Of those, 39 were declared major, requiring ten or more firefighting teams.
Over 32,000 acres of land, both forest and urban, are estimated to have been destroyed by fires in Haifa, Zichron Ya’acov, Neveh Shalom, Modi’in, Neveh Ilan, Nataf, and other areas. The total amount of damage is 30 percent more than during 2010, when a massive fire in the Carmel mountains decimated five million trees.
2,000 firefighters battled the fires, with 3,500 IDF soldiers from the Home Front Command called up to assist, said IDF Chief of Staff Avigdor Liberman. 20,000 police officers were involved in the operations.In Haifa, the hardest-hit area, 527 apartments were completely destroyed and 1,600 people left homeless. 75,000 Haifa residents were evacuated from their homes.
Israel sent 14 planes from its firefighting squadron into action, supported by at least 19 aircraft from other countries. All together, the planes carried out 670 separate sorties and dropped over 1.6 million liters of liquid and fire-retardant foam on burning areas.
Over a dozen countries responded to Israel’s request for aid by sending aircraft and firefighting personnel, including the US, Russia, Greece, Croatia, Turkey, France, Spain, Canada, Cyprus, Italy, Azerbaijan, Egypt, and Ukraine. The Palestinian Authority also did its part, sending 40 firefighters and eight fire trucks to help Israeli emergency services.
Several dozen of the fires are thought to have been set deliberately by arsonists. So far, 35 Arab Israelis and Palestinians have been arrested on suspicion of starting fires.
At least 133 people were reported injured, many suffering from smoke inhalation, but miraculously, in contrast to the Carmel fire which killed 44, there were no deaths.