There are fires all over the world and no investigative committees, prime minister says at comptroller’s hearing

Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu lashed out against the ongoing investigation into his government’s response to the 2010 Carmel Forest fire at the State Controller’s Knesset hearing on the issue Tuesday.

Speaking at a special session of the State Control Committee, which convened for the second time to discuss former state comptroller Micha Lindenstrauss’s scathing report into the disaster, Netanyahu said that firefighting planes were the only way to deal with enormous fires.

‘Police and IPS failed in Carmel fire response’
‘Fire service failures continued after Carmel’

There are fires all over the world, he said, and no investigative committees. Critiques, he continued, would not bring back the men and women who lost their lives, Israel Radio reported. Netanyahu reminded the meeting’s atendees that after the Carmel Fire had broken out, his first decision had been to bring firefighting aircraft from other countries.

“There is no way to deal with huge fires without aircraft. This is the fundamental problem,” Netanyahu said. “There are other issues too with the fire service but the decisive issue is the ability to bring firefighting material to mountainous terrain, drop it and put out the fire.”

The response was not effective because the state did not have firefighting aircraft at its disposal at the time, he said.

The prime minister stressed that even though there had been an extra NIS 10M of annual budget allocated to the firefighting services, the issue of planes had not been raised.

“There is no way of dealing with massive fires without planes,” Army Radio quoted him as saying. “This fundamental insight was lacking in the firefighting establishment. I was also not aware of it.”

“[The extra funding] does not affect the main issue which is firefighting aircraft,” he added. “This has not been discussed at all.”

Forty-four people lost their lives in the fire, the worst in the state’s history.

Among them were 37 Prisons Service cadets and their commanding officers, who died along with their driver when their bus was engulfed by flames.

They were on the way to Damon Prison to evacuate its prisoners. Three senior police officers, two firefighters and a 16-year-old volunteer firefighter also died.

The fire caused widespread damage to land and property, totaling millions of shekels. An estimated 1.5 million trees were destroyed and more than 5,000 hectares (12,000 acres) of land was burned.

In June, the state comptroller’s report on the fire said the nation’s firefighting infrastructure lags behind that of other countries, and Israel has, proportionally, only one-quarter the firemen and fire trucks as other Western countries, the report revealed. Additionally, the country has only a fraction of the fire retardants that it is required to have.

In October 2009, 14 months before the fire, the Fire and Rescue Services commissioner said he was short 200 firefighters due to lack of funds. The firefighting service was also short 130 fire engines, while those vehicles in service were never updated and modernized as they should have been.

Moreover, the service did not have a centralized computer system.

In December 2009, a year before the fire, the firefighters’ committee chairman informed the prime minister that the firefighting service was “in a state of collapse,” adding that “firefighters in the field need to decide who gets to live and who dies.”

The report said Interior Minister Eli Yishai and Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz should take “particular responsibility” for serious failures in the country’s firefighting system.