Thursday, November 24, 2016

Massive Fires Rage Across Haifa [Updated], Signs Of Arson, 'Tens Of Thousands' Evacuated

Tens of thousands told to flee as massive fires rage across Haifa 

Tens of thousands of people were evacuating from their homes in Haifa Thursday morning as a wave of wildfires threatened the bay metropolis, bolstered by high winds and dry conditions that have contributed to a spate of blazes across the country over the past two days.
Residents of a total of 11 neighborhoods in the city were told to leave their homes, as fires in at least five locations consumed homes and business.
“The fire is not under control; residents should quickly evacuate,” the Haifa fire chief said, according to Walla News, as eyewitnesses described firefighters having little success in checking the onslaught of the flames.

Firefighting planes from several countries were being brought in and the army’s Home Front Command called in soldiers and rescuers to aid with the effort.
In the city’s Romema neighborhood, a large apartment tower was seen going up in flames.
Houses and a kindergarten in Haifa’s Ramot Sapir neighborhood were evacuated, police said, as the city’s entire fire service tried to control a blaze threatening to spread from the surrounding forests into the suburb.
Israeli TV broadcast pictures of paramedics frantically moving elderly people out of a nursing home in the Romema neighborhood of Haifa as black smoke billowed overhead.
Firefighters also worked to try and keep flames from nearing a gas station close to the city’s Paz bridge. Route 22 running through the area was closed.

The Magen David Adom rescue service said 36 people had been treated for injuries; 35 were lightly hurt and one hospitalized in moderate conditions.
“We’re in a state of war,” Haifa fire service spokesman Uri Chibutro told Channel 2 news.
Major traffic jams were reported as residents in affected neighborhoods attempted to move to safer ground.
An Israel fire service spokesman told The Times of Israel arson was suspected in Haifa based on circumstantial evidence, but nothing had been confirmed.
Firefighters have been struggling since Tuesday to keep pace with a spate of brush fires that have popped up around the country, several of which have damaged homes and put people in the hospital for smoke inhalation.

In the West Bank settlement of Talmon, residents were also evacuated Thursday, along with 300 pupils of a local school, as flames encroached on buildings, police said.
Several cars and structures in the Ramallah-area settlement have already suffered serious damage, according to police. On Wednesday, a fire broke out between the settlement and the neighboring settlement of Dolev, though firefighters said early Thursday that the blaze had been brought under control.
In Porat, outside the coastal city of Netanya, another brush fire was reported Thursday afternoon.
A fire was also reported close to the Israel Electric Corporation’s huge coal-fired power station in coastal Hadera. Firefighters said the outbreak was under control.
On Thursday morning, firefighting airplanes from Greece and Cyprus arrived in Israel to join the effort, with more planes expected from Turkey, Croatia, Italy and Russia after Israel requested international aid.
Four planes — two Bombadiers and a Hercules from Greece and an air tractor from Cyprus — and 49 crew members arrived Thursday morning. The planes are able to carry larger amounts of fire retardant than local aircraft.

Along with the international aid, the IDF Home Front Command’s Kedem Battalion was been called in to help with the evacuations in the Mount Carmel area, an IDF spokesperson said.
In addition, firefighter reservists in the Home Front Command have also been called up to assist in battling the blazes around the country.
In 2010, the Haifa region was ravaged by a massive wildfire that spread across the Carmel forest, killing 44 people, most of them Prison Service cadets trapped on a bus after trying to evacuate inmates from a nearby prison. The fire, the deadliest natural disaster in Israel’s history, led to wide-ranging reforms in the firefighting service.
Earlier Thursday, fires broke out near the Shilat Junction at the northern entrance to Modiin, with police briefly shutting Route 443, one of two main highways connecting Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, creating a major traffic headache for morning commuters.
Firefighters managed to gain control of the fire by mid-morning.
Firefighters also battled to control blazes sweeping from the community of Neve Ilan toward Route 1, the other major artery into the capital, at the Sha’ar Hagai junction.

Education Minister Naftali Bennett said Wednesday night that a series of fire raging across the country in recent days, a number of which are believed to be arson, could only have been set by “someone who this land this does not belong to,” making a seemingly oblique reference to Arabs.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu indicated Wednesday that there were signs that some of the wildfires were deliberately set and reached out for foreign assistance to help douse the flames.

Bennett on Wednesday night took to Twitter to write that “only someone who this land does not belong to would be capable of setting fire to it,” a sentiment which seems aimed at Palestinians and/or members of Israel’s Arab community.

Bennett is head of the nationalist-religious Jewish Home party, a champion of the settlement enterprise and a strong opponent to the idea of a Palestinian state, on religious as well as security grounds. Bennett has repeatedly called for annexing parts of the West Bank and granting the Palestinians in other parts expanded autonomy, with new roads, office parks and economic opportunities, with Israel retaining overall security control.

Maj.-Gen. Amos Yaakov, commander of the Coastal District police, said Wednesday morning that police were looking into suspicions the series of fires could have been caused by nationalistically motivated arson attacks.
“When you’re battling six fronts at once, your suspicions run high, but I cannot say for sure,” he said.
Israel has faced a number of brush fires believed to have been deliberately set, including one this past May a when police released footage showing a male figure disappearing into some bushes near the Ofrit military base and Hadassah Hospital in Mount Scopus, before fleeing in the direction of the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Issawiya. The suspected attack was the third in two days in the same area and the seventh nationwide that week.

On Wednesday, firefighters brought under control wildfires in the northern communities of Zichron Yaakov and Gilon, allowing some evacuated residents to return to their homes. Police also planned to bolster security forces’s presence in the area, as suspicions grew that arson was the cause of some of the fires.

A fire in Neve Ilan near Jerusalem was still going strong as of early Thursday morning. A number of firefighting teams was dispatched to battle the blaze.

Fires also broke out on Tuesday and Wedesday near Hadera, Lachish, the Haifa suburb of Nesher, the Etzion Bloc, and outside the northern town of Kfar Vradim.

Haifa on fire, 60,000 people evacuated

Homes were evacuated in one residential neighborhood after another Wednesday, Nov. 24, ahead of the huge flames and thick smoke enveloping Israel’s third city, Haifa, three days after hundreds of wildfires, most caused by arsonists, began spreading across the country.  At least 56 people suffered injuries in Haifa, most from smoke inhalation and dozens of shock victims were taken to hospital. Haifa University and the Technion was cleared and closed. as flames consumed buildings around the campuses. The Damon and Carmel prisons are being evacuated. Efforts are still underway to help inmates of nursing homes and hospitals to safety.
Firefighting planes sent by Greece and Turkey dropped retardants.

The Israeli government was called into emergency session Wednesday as the fires continued to blaze out of control, whipped up by dry winds which are forecast to last another six days.

Five Palestinians were detained on suspicion of arson. A contraption used by arsonists was discovered at the scene of one of the fires. The Shin Bet and fire brigade’s investigators have gone into action to put a stop to the wave of arson attacks, encouraged by Palestinian social media..

As the fully mobilized fire teams rushed from scene to scene, backed by Homeland Security Ministry reserve firefighters and soldiers, it became apparent that there was no clear organization in place for mass evacuations, especially for citizens without private cars, the elderly, handicapped and families with small children. The emergency services issued conflicting guidelines to the public causing chaos. Families told to evacuate in their own vehicles gridlocked the roads needed to stay open for fire engines and other emergency traffic, instead of the city hall commandeering buses. Haifa is an industrial city with petrochemical industries and an oil refinery with abundant woods and parks, especially on the Carmel. Yet the central operations room for managing the emergency was set up too late to control the town.

The outskirts of Modi’in, a town between Tel Aviv and Jerusalem caught fire again Wednesday after the flames were brought under control during the night. There were signs of arson. Schools and kindergartens were closed early morning.

After more than 200 wildfires had been raging across Israel for two days, rekindled by high winds as soon as firefighters controlled the flames, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu Wednesday night, Nov. 23, confirmed evidence of arson in several places.

Public Security Minister Gilead Erdan and police commissioner Roni Alsheikh decided to post soldiers, police and border guards in open areas around towns, villages and communities to secure them against further arson attacks and catch the perpetrators.

Police are investigating the wholesale outbreaks of wildfire in widely separate spots, causing extensive damage to homes and buildings. Thousands of people had fled their homes ahead of the flames that consumed all their possessions in central and eastern Israel. Whole streets and neighborhoods up and down the country have been destroyed. Damage is initially estimated at NIS.50 million ($12m).

Responding to Israel’s appeal, Russia, Croatia, Italy, Greece and Cyprus will be sending over six planes to support Israel’s own fleet of aerial firefighters. The first are due to land Thursday morning.

Israel has asked Greece, Cyprus, Italy and Turkey for extra planes to reinforce Israel’s own fleet of aerial firefighter planes. The gusty winds and exceptionally dry weather have kept sparks flying and reignited the blaze in many places after it was brought under control. They are forecast to continue up until the weekend.

Zichron Yaacov, south of Haifa, was the first victim. An entire neighborhood of small homes in a wooded area was burned to the ground. Dolev, 6km north of Ramallah, was evacuated as homes were enveloped in flames. There, surveillance cameras recorded the arsonists at work. Nataf, a small community, west of Jerusalem, was emptied as buildings caught fire.

Wednesday night, flames shot into the sky from Reut, between Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. In western Galilee, a forest fire reached the small community of Gilon and forced its evacuation. Tuesday night, 13 bush fires were extinguished in northern Israel.

During the day, the IDF Home Front called up reservists to back up the fire brigades and police who are operating at full stretch up and down the country.

While the hot, dry winds swept across the entire region this week, Israel is the only country to have been plagued by nationwide wildfires. Across the Green Line, not a single Palestinian town or village was affected.  

The suspicion of organized arson under intense investigation has fallen first and foremost on Palestinian extremists, who may have come up with a new form of terror, which is easy for the culprit to escape undetected.

Arab social media ablaze with 'Israel is burning' posts celebrating fires

Arab social media networks on Thursday were rife with inflammatory celebratory reactions in light of the myriad of brush fires that have been blazing across central and northern Israel since Tuesday.

Dry conditions and high winds have spread the flames across the central and northern regions of Israel as well as parts of the West Bank.

Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan (Likud) said Thursday morning that he suspected that up to half of the fires had be intentionally ignited by arsonists. Meanwhile, Education Minister Naftali Bennett (Bayit Yehudi) suggested that those who set them could not be Jewish.

"Tel_Aviv_IsBurning" was the most common Arabic hashtag trending on Arab social media platforms on Thursday morning.

One of the most proliferous tweets was published by a police officer in Abu Dabi that read "Israel has prevented the muezzin calls to prayer, and then it was engulfed in fire." 

In addition social media networks in Egypt, Jordan and the Gulf emirates were also saturated with posts that indicated that the fires were nature's retribution over an controversial Israel billto ban outside loudspeakers from places of worship, such as the likes used in the five-time daily call to prayer by mosques. 

The imam of Kuwait's Grand Mosque, Sheikh Mishary Alfasy Rashid, also chimed in issuing incendiary remarks to his following of 11 million on Twitter. 

"Good luck to the fires. #Israel_IsBurning," he wrote in an Arabic Twitter post accompanied by a smiling face icon and various photographs of the daily fires across the country. 
In another tweet, he wrote that the blazes were "due to the prevention of the calls of the muezzin in occupied Palestine."

Another Kuwaiti sheikh, Nabil Ali al-Awad, also took to Twitter in a fiery rant to his 6 million followers on the social media platform. 

"God burned their hearts and their homes and their money and their bodies and make their graves inflamed...because of what they did to the [Muslim] believers," he wrote alongside the hashtag "#Israel_IsBurning."

The Persian Gulf sheikh later returned to Twitter to apologized for using the word "Israel" in his previous post, attempting to explain that "there is no such entity. I used the word as part of a hashtag."

Also see:

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foretastes said...

Just spotted this news. Amir Tsarfati (Behold Israel ministry) asked for urgent prayer...

Scott said...

Thanks for that - Debka seems to have more info implicating arson - I'll put that link in next update

Unknown said...

Thanks Dave,I have his app

Unknown said...

Happy Thanksgiving to everybody