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Israel hopes to have wildfire under control
Jerusalem, Dec 5 (Agencies):
Published on 6 Dec. 2010 12:32 AM IST
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Israeli firefighters could bring a deadly wildfire that has been sweeping through precious northern woodlands since last week under control on Sunday, a fire service spokesman said.
Two teenage brothers were arrested on Saturday on suspicion they caused the blaze, which has killed 41 people, through negligence. The minors are to be brought before a court on Sunday for an extension of their detention, police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said.
Rosenfeld said he could not confirm Israeli media reports that the boys inadvertently sparked the blaze with a bonfire.
The fire, the worst in Israel’s history, has been tearing through the Carmel forest near Israel’s third-largest city, Haifa, since Thursday. It has caught the country — which prides itself on its technological prowess, ability to improvise and rescue expertise — woefully unprepared.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has appealed to the international community for help, and countries in the immediate region and as far afield as Russia and the US have dispatched planes, firefighters and materials to help battle the blaze.
“The general picture is better, more optimistic,” firefighters’ spokesman Boaz Rakia told a news conference on Sunday. While it will take days to extinguish the fire completely, he said he hoped it might be brought under control Sunday.
Although the forest fire is small by international standards, it is considered a calamity in Israel, where only 7 percent of the land is wooded. The Carmel forest makes up 5 percent of that forested land and nearly half of it has been destroyed in the fire.
Rosenfeld, the police spokesman, said he had no details about the circumstances that led to the fire. But he said the two arrested teenagers “are suspected of negligence at the scene where the fire began (and) of causing the huge fire”.
The boys’ aunt told Army Radio that her nephews were not responsible for the blaze.
Grief-stricken families continued to bury the dead on Sunday. Most were prison guards whose bus was engulfed by flames Thursday while rushing to evacuate a prison.
A 16-year-old volunteer firefighter also died while trying to save people aboard the bus.
More than 17,000 people had been evacuated from their homes before officials gave some of them the all-clear to return on Saturday. Israeli firefighters have complained for years of undersized crews, outdated equipment and minimal supplies. While Israel has a highly sophisticated air force, its firefighting force doesn’t have a single plane. It ran out of flame retardants on the first day of the blaze.
Netanyahu said on Saturday that Israel would form an airborne firefighting force. On Sunday, his Cabinet is to hold its weekly meeting in the north in an expression of solidarity with stricken residents.

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