Once again a Jewish holiday has been tinged with tragedy bringing an aura of darkness to the Holiday of Lights, when the beautiful Carmel Forest, south of the city of Haifa was engulfed in flames. Authorities are attempting to determine the cause of the fires and examining rumors of negligence rather than arson. Some reports cite kids holding a bonfire, a family that failed to extinguish a picnic fire as well as it possibly being started in the Druze village of Usifiya, to the south of Haifa near Kibbutz Beit Oren where many homes were destroyed. According to Hezi Levy of the fire service, the fire is the biggest and deadliest in Israelís history. It has been fanned by strong winds making the skies crimson from the blaze and sending burning embers flying for miles. There were reports of 17,000 people being evacuated from the area, five million trees lost and about 7,000 acres being destroyed.
Thus far forty prison guards whose bus was engulfed by flames on the way to evacuate a prison were killed along with a sixteen year old volunteer firefighter who joined the rescue mission.
This has become an unusual instance wherein Israel, instead of sending help to other countries, had to ask for assistance. It is gratifying that help was immediate and arrived from all quarters.
Turkey said it would coordinate NATO efforts and sent two helicopters. Their Prime Minister Recep Erdogan said, "In the face of such a natural disaster, we needed to help as a humanitarian and Islamic requirement" and pledged to stay until the fire is brought under control. The Palestinian Authority sent two fire trucks, Bulgaria100 fire fighters, equipment arrived from Russia, Jordan, Egypt, Cypress, Greece, Azerbaijan, Romania and Spain. New Yorkís Mayor Bloomberg sent a 747 loaded with 20,000 liters of fire retardant.
Israelís Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said early on, "We have more than 40 dead. People are missing. People are injured. Many perished in admirable courage and sacrificed themselves in order to save others."
Donations can be made by visiting the Jewish National Fund, the U.S. fundraising arm of Friends of Israel Firefighters: