Hundreds evacuated due to raging fires near Israel’s Haifa
Thousands of Israelis fled their homes on the outskirts of the country’s third city Haifa, while many were trapped inside their houses as firefighters struggled to control raging bushfires on Thursday.
The army called up reservists and hospitals in the city and declared a state of emergency, fearing repetition of a 2010 blaze that killed 44 people – the deadliest in Israeli history.
“We evacuated three neighbourhoods and there are people who are stuck,” fire department spokesman Kayed Daher said.
He added: “The fire is still burning and the flames are approaching a gas station.”
Flames up to 10 metres high threatened several multi-storey tower blocks in one Haifa suburb, a photographer at the scene reported.
Haifa university was evacuated as a precautionary measure. In the affluent Carmel neighbourhood on the heights above the city, residents spoke of a desperate rush to get elderly residents out. “The fire is out of control and is spreading fast,” the neighbourhood’s rescue services chief, Naftali Rottenberg, told public radio.
“The fire is advancing 20-30 metres (yards) in a few minutes. Sometimes we are taking residents out against their will,” Rottenberg added.
The scale of the blaze prompted a growing list of countries to send help, including firefighting aircraft. They included Croatia, Cyprus, Greece, Italy, Russia and Turkey. The deadly December 2010 fire required the assistance of planes and personnel from more than 16 countries to put out.
Israel has been hit by a spate of bushfires in recent days that officials attribute to an unusually dry autumn and strong winds.