Whilst sitting in a restaurant on Thursday afternoon, we were totally unaware of the drama unfolding in our adjacent national park, The Carmel Forest. Only when we returned home and switched on the TV did we realize the extent of the fire and the tragic loss of life.
The bus carrying the young prison officers to the local jail to assist in moving the prisoners to safety got caught up on the narrow road leading up to the jail by the fire that covered 1.1/2 km in 3 minutes.
Within a short time, our phone was ringing and ringing and ringing. Friends from the rest of the country and from overseas all wanted to be sure we were alright.
One phone call came from a member of the local community hospitality committee who told us that the overseas students at the University were being moved off campus and the city was looking for temporary accommodation for the students. We offered 4 beds but as it happened, we were not needed. As we heard later “the city authorities were overwhelmed and overjoyed by the many offers they have had for housing the evacuees from Haifa University. There were over 60 overseas students who needed places and they had more than enough offers within a half hour of the call. Our group came up with 31 places in 15 minutes! We really are a great people in times of emergency!”
Amongst the many phone calls was an ironic one from a good friend in the UK who phoned from his mobile while stuck in snow to see if we were OK.
Naturally, our children were concerned and pleaded with us to leave Haifa. However, with an up to minute assessment from the TV, we went to bed and slept well. Our neighborhood is approx 5 km from the action and my wife and I did have a conversation what we should pack into the car if it did become necessary to leave. That is quite a frightening thought, what to take and what to leave. Many around the world face this dilemma where there are hurricanes and tornados but for us this was new and our thoughts were somewhat confused.
The following morning, we woke and immediately switched on the TV for the latest news. Not good,the fire was still burning out of control and within a short time the phone was ringing again and this time the grandchildren were pleading with us to leave Haifa. They were concerned that even if the fire was not going to reach us, the smoke and the chemicals in the smoke would be dangerous to our health. After withstanding the torrent of calls, we made the decision to spend the weekend with our daughter in Tel Aviv. We then rushed around packing, cancelled the Saturday night bus we were due to take to Eilat and the Friday night invitation for supper. Did we pack anything special – no. Were we being naïve? I don’t think so.
Anyway having loaded up the car we set off south with news that the parallel coast road south was closed as the fire had reached that road. Thus we were left with the main coast road and as we travelled along it we could see part of the extent of the fire. The planes that had arrived overnight were visible, flying out to the Mediterranean to pick up the water and then inland to drop the water on fire. Unmanned drones were directing operations from the air as the ground crew were unable to see the full extent of the blaze and the path it was taking..
So now it is Saturday night, the fire is still raging and the fire crews still have not got the fire under control. We had planned the next few days in Eilat with the whole family and we have decided to go. What will be in the North who knows but life goes on and we can’t drive ourselves crazy.
The assistance coming from around the world, particularly the number of firefighters coming from countries like Bulgaria, Greece, Russia, Azerbijan, Rumania, Egypt, Jordan and Turkey is appreciated. This international help is particularly welcome since it is usually Israel responding to other countries disasters around the world and it is good to see that even countries who don’t enjoy the best of relationships with Israel coming to our assistance.