Operations of firefighting aircraft have been called off until Saturday morning, leaving ground crews with the task of battling the blaze overnight.
By Yaniv Kubovich, Fadi Eyadat and Anshel Pfeffer

The wildfire in the Carmel hills continued to spread on Friday evening, approaching Haifa University, the Denya neighborhood of Haifa and the Carmel Forest Hotel as well as engulfing the area of the Hai-Bar nature reserve.

The continued growth of the blaze followed an afternoon of cautious optimism in the fight against the largest wildfire in Israeli history.

Firefighters are assembling in the area of the university in order to try to contain the fire.

As darkness fell, the operations of foreign firefighting aircraft from Europe were called off until the morning. During the night, only firefighters on the ground will be battling to stop the spread of the blaze, but there is not much of an expectation that they will be able to control it.

Firefighting authorities are putting their hopes on a Russian aircraft that landed in Israel on Friday evening and will go into action on Saturday. The plane is capable of holding up to 42,000 liters of water.

The initial inquiry conducted by fire investigators has pointed to negligence, not arson, as the cause of the wildfire.

According to the investigation, the wildfire started at one location west of Ussifiya. It is believed that household trash and tires that had been discarded in the area caught on fire and the fire spread. Investigators are looking into what exactly caused the trash to ignite.

Meanwhile, the police commissioner ordered district commanders to be on alert for acts of arson.

Northern District commander Shimon Koren said that several incidents of arson had occurred throughout the north on Friday. The fires did not develop into large blazes and were controlled quickly by firefighting forces.

Two male residents of Daliat al-Carmel were released on Friday after having earlier been arrested on the suspicion that they had attempted to ignite fires in the Carmel hills region.

After being questioned by police, it became clear that the two were not responsible for the acts they were suspected of.

17,000 Northern residents have thus far been evacuated from their homes as the wildfire has raged out of control in the Carmel hills south of Haifa, Israel’s third largest city, since Thursday morning. The blaze had spread as far as moshav Nir Etzion by Friday afternoon.

Authorities are closely monitoring wind directions and are preparing for the possibility that the fire will spread to additional locations. Buses have been moved into to positions that will allow for additional evacuations if necessary.

“The fire has spread to other areas throughout the day despite the efforts of dozens of foreign aircraft, and the situation is getting worse,” said Haifa Mayor Yona Yahav.

A Home Front Command officer also said that at this point the fire is only growing stronger.

Fire-fighting aircraft from throughout the world landed in Israel on Friday to aid in battling the flames.

The death toll from the blaze reached 42 on Friday. Most of the victims had perished in an incident on Thursday involving a bus carrying members of a Prison Service guards’ course who were heading to the Damon jail in order to help evacuate inmates.