By BB Portnoy
“It was like a movie,” an Israeli firefighter who battled the blazes that swept through the northern city of Haifa told The Algemeiner as he recounted his experiences a day later during a rare moment of rest.
“Every moment we were called to help in another place,” Yair Cohen — of the Carmiel fire station in the Galilee region — said. “There were so many apartments on fire and crazy traffic as people were escaping with their kids and whatever else they could take.”
Cohen is one of the hundreds of firefighters who have worked day and night over the past week in an effort to contain the dozens of wildfires that have popped up across northern and central Israel.
“We’re doing our best to save forests, homes, property and pets,” he said. “It’s really sad to think about all the people who’ve lost all their possessions. Yesterday, we saw one woman who was too scared to go see what had happened to her house. It’s heart-wrenching.”
On Thursday, Cohen was dispatched to Haifa’s Romema neighborhood, the scene of some of the worst fires that broke out in Israel’s third-largest city.
“We were at one home where the roof began to collapse and we were trying to put the fire out from both the outside and the inside,” he said. “It’s been a tough and tiring week. It’s nuts, I can’t comprehend it.”
An estimated 700 homes in Haifa suffered damage in Thursday’s fires.
“During my almost 4 years as a firefighter, I hadn’t seen something like this,” Cohen said. “And I heard from more veteran firefighters that there hasn’t been anything like this, in terms of the amount of homes that were burned.”
While the fires in Haifa have been extinguished, blazes in other locations in Israel continue to burn.
“I think this will only end once the rain finally comes, or the eastern winds stop and instead come from the west and bring moisture,” Cohen said. “The situation is problematic right now, because everything is very dry. It’s the end of November and there has been almost no rain.”
As reported by The Algemeiner, the Israeli cabinet will hold its weekly meeting in Haifa on Sunday. On Friday, Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu visited the moshav of Beit Meir in central Israel, where ten homes were burned down by a fire on Thursday night.
“The most important thing is to evacuate people, and also yourselves,” Netanyahu told firefighters there. “Nobody needs to die here, nobody. This is before anything else.”
As of Friday, no deaths or serious injuries have occurred as a result of the fires.
Speaking with reporters in Haifa on Thursday, Netanyahu referred to suspicions that some of the fires were sparked by deliberate acts of arson, saying, “Every fire that was caused by arson, or incitement to arson, is terrorism by all accounts. And we will treat it as such. Whoever tries to burn parts of Israel will be punished for it severely.”