State Comptroller Micha Lindenstrauss submitted his report on the 2010 Carmel forest fire to Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin Wednesday morning, and spoke of “grave negligence” in the handling of the blaze. The report was made public at 4 p.m., and assigned “special” responsibility for the failures to Interior Minister Eli Yishai and Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz.
Lindenstrauss described the report as “one of the most serious” prepared by his office in his seven years in the post. He gave a few examples of the failures that had contributed to the “catastrophic” situation in which Israel’s fire-fighting services found themselves when trying to confront the blaze, which broke out late in the morning of December 2, 2010.
He noted, for instance, that out of 450 tons of the special materials that ought to have been available for preventing the spreading of a blaze, only 20 tons were actually in stock. He said Israel had only a quarter of the fire-fighting personnel it needed for a country of this size and population, and only half of some equipment and vehicles.
The 2010 blaze that raged out of control for four days claimed 44 lives, including 37 Prison Service officer cadets and their driver, who perished when their bus became trapped by the flames.
“Israel is always on the ready to face external threats, but failed when tragedy struck from within,” said Rivlin upon receiving the report. “From my initial reading, it looks like the report is, for the most part, forward- looking. I do not get the sense that its aim is vengeance or beheadings, but rather to fix problems. Rage exists and that rage should be directed towards reforming the way we cope with natural disasters.”
Despite an embargo on the probe’s findings, the Hebrew newspapers were full of headlines Wednesday morning, predicting State Comptroller Lindenstrauss’s 500-page report will blame Yishai and Steinitz for Israel’s inadequate response to the fire and for the extensive damage caused by the blaze. The Carmel fire was the deadliest in the country’s history, and the most costly in terms of property and environmental damage.
Israel’s response to the blaze was widely criticized, as was the state of preparation by fire and rescue services. The government eventually called for help from foreign nations as local forces failed to contain the fire. Greece, Turkey, Russia, Switzerland, Cyprus and the Netherlands sent personnel, equipment and aircraft to assist in battling the conflagration, which was fully extinguished on December 5.
Some of the families of casualties from the blaze have been vocal in their demand for an investigation into governmental negligence in relation to the fire, contending that most of the deaths were avoidable. In addition to the bus full of officer cadets, three senior police officials, including Haifa’s chief of police, were killed while battling the fire.
On Tuesday, Yishai launched a preemptive strike against the comptroller’s report by released a video in his defense, including testimonies in his favor from a few families of victims.