Tuesday, December 07, 2010

Israel police arrest four teens over huge inferno

From AFP, 7 December 2010:

BEIT OREN, Israel — Israeli police said on Monday they arrested four teenagers suspected of starting a blaze that swept through a forest and killed 42 people in the country's worst fire disaster.

"We have made four arrests -- two teenagers from the Druze village of Isfiya who were arrested on Saturday, and another two who were questioned on Sunday and released to house arrest," police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld told AFP, without saying where the second two were from.

The four were suspected of negligence that sparked the wildfire, he said, adding that the two teenagers from Isfiya were scheduled to appear in court on Wednesday.

The fire in the Carmel hill range near the northern city of Haifa began on Thursday, killing 42 people before it was brought under control three days later after a massive international firefighting effort.

An initial investigation appears to show the blaze, the biggest in Israel's 62-year history, was started by accident by several teenagers who were having a picnic in the area, Rosenfeld said.

Light rain fell on Monday morning on the forests of Mount Carmel, dampening the ground, with meteorologists estimating there would be a total of 15 millimetres (0.6 inches) throughout the day.

The rain is some of the first the country has had this year, after a particularly dry summer and an unusually warm autumn. Last month saw the driest November in nearly 50 years.

Firefighters were still on the scene on Monday morning, working to ensure that the blaze, which consumed thousands of acres of forest, did not reignite.

Government officials cited by the Israeli media on Monday said the fire had caused damage estimated at two billion shekels (400 million euro, 533 million dollars).

In addition to those costs, Israel now plans to buy several firefighting planes, after scathing domestic criticism at the Jewish state's lack of an aerial firefighting capacity.

The country has just 1,500 firefighters and no firefighting planes, forcing it to rely on international assistance to put out the blaze.

The government has also announced plans to create a new body charged with overseeing the response to fires.

For the first time, the Israeli government has released emergency funding of 30 million euros to help residents who lost their homes in the fire.

"I don't want delays or bureaucracy. I want all the people who were evacuated to be able to return to their lives as soon as possible," Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said.
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