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Israeli Forest Fire Almost Extinguished; Death Toll Rises to 42

Israeli firefighters douse a burning area in the village of Ussafiya in Haifa's Carmel Forest. Photographer: Marco Longari/AFP/Getty Images
Israeli firefighters douse a burning area in the village of Ussafiya in Haifa's Carmel Forest. Photographer: Marco Longari/AFP/Getty Images

Dec. 6 (Bloomberg) -- The Israeli forest fire that took 42 lives and forced some 17,000 people to flee their homes is almost extinguished, with only one small blaze left to put out, police said.

Firemen remain on standby in the country’s north, police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said by phone today. He confirmed that a senior police officer died after suffering critical injuries as she tried to rescue passengers from a burning bus on Dec. 2, bringing the death toll from the fire to 42.

The blaze destroyed more than 10,000 acres (4,050 hectares) of forest and has been described by officials as the worst in the country’s history. It forced Israel to call on allies to send firefighting support, receiving more than 30 firefighting aircraft from countries including the U.S., Greece, Turkey and Russia. The aircraft began departing last night.

The daily Ma’ariv yesterday estimated fire damage at 985 million shekels ($272 million), without saying how it did the calculation. The government doesn’t yet have an estimate, Shlomi Sheffer, a Finance Ministry spokesman, said by phone.

The Welfare Ministry has allotted about 500 million shekels to municipalities affected by the fire, said Pnina Ben Ami, a spokeswoman. The Finance Ministry set aside several million shekels to help local governments, minister Yuval Steinitz’s office said in an e-mailed statement today.

Most damage to private property is insured and the insurance companies are covered by reinsurance policies, the Finance Ministry said on Dec. 3. Most of the damage to public property is also insured, it said.

‘Fiasco’

“There hasn’t been such a fiasco since the establishment of the state,” Haim Klein, a former police superintendent, said on Army Radio. “We don’t need an inquiry. We need to launch a criminal investigation for criminal negligence.”

Interior Minister Eli Yishai, who is responsible for the fire department, said on Army Radio: “I don’t remember any other minister fighting as much as I have for a budget increase.”

Two people under the age of 18 were arrested yesterday on suspicion of starting the fire, Rosenfeld said, adding that the blaze appeared to be caused by negligence and not arson.

The fire began in the Carmel hills south of Haifa, a city with a population of 266,000, and exceptionally dry conditions helped it spread rapidly. About 12,500 acres of forest have been destroyed, Efi Stenzler, chairman of the Jewish National Fund, which plants trees in Israel, told Channel 2 television.

To contact the reporter on this story: Gwen Ackerman in Jerusalem at gackerman@bloomberg.net.

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Louis Meixler at lmeixler@bloomberg.net.

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