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Galilee Fire Official: We Warned Ma'alot About Underground Fire

A Western Galilee fire official warned Ma'alot about the dangers of an underground blaze now smoldering a month, but the city didn't listen.
By Hana Levi Julian
First Publish: 6/14/2012, 10:47 AM

Smoking Ma'alot dump pit may be 15-20m deep
Smoking Ma'alot dump pit may be 15-20m deep
Courtesy of MC

A Western Galilee fire official warned the Ma'alot municipality about the dangers of an underground blaze now smoldering for a month, but the city did not follow his instructions.

Following an exclusive story by Arutz Sheva about the city's apparent unwillingness to properly extinguish the fire, Deputy Fire Chief Hezi Levi made a call to find out what really was happening in Ma'alot since his conversation with officials at the municipality.

"He told me that at the time of the original fire on May 12 they had informed the iriya (municipality) that the only way to fight this fire was either to (a) dig up the pit and extinguish it, or (b) cover the site with dirt to the point where no oxygen would get to the underground fire,” said Arutz Sheva's source in an Internet interview Thursday morning. The deputy fire chief added that he felt that  arsonists could re-ignite the blaze once more, however, the source noted.

"When I asked him how deep he thought the fire was, he said '15 to 20 meters.' He said the municipality should never have permitted a garbage/brushwood dump to be situated in the location it is in. He said they had fire trucks stationed at the site for three days pumping water at the scene,” the source added, but questioned, “I am wondering if the fire is actually 15 to 20 meters (50 to 65 feet) deep. Is that possible?”

The Ma'alot resident asked Levi to contact other agencies on behalf of those who have been suffering from the clouds of smoke drifting up from the site, and reported that he was “very responsive” and “gave me his cell number.”

Residents had first contacted the Ministry for Environmental Protection by email and received a courteous reply assuring them their complaint had been received and would be attended to. But little was done, other than to post a sign warning that the area was hazardous, noted a resident, who wrote in a followup complaint to the ministry that foliage and other debris was still being dumped at the site by a trucker who said he was working for the city.

They eventually sent a copy of their complaint to the Green Police, hoping to prompt the city into extinguishing the blaze once and for all, but again with little response. When the blaze continued to burn into June, the residents finally contacted Arutz Sheva, hoping photos and media coverage would prompt action where government channels had failed.

Prior to his appointment as deputy fire chief for the Western Galilee region, Levi headed the fire department in Haifa. To him fell the job of helping from the air to attemp to manage the massive inferno that devastated the Mount Carmel area on December 2, 2010 with what the State Comptroller has since clearly noted were completely inadequate resources.

According to an account by local resident Lauren Mescon posted in February 2011 by the Atlanta Jewish News, "Levi said that this fire was the first fire that the Israeli Fire and Rescue Services lacked the ability to stop. He knew this was now a rescue mission. Within 1 and ½ hours, more than 20,000 people were evacuated from Haifa University, the nearby Kibbutz Bet, the Carmel Forest Spa and the Dimon prison... The incomprehensible loss, the tragedy of the bus and the vehicle that sought to rescue it, was indeed a tragedy.

"At about 3 pm, a bus of prison service cadets were heading to Carmel to evacuate Dimon Prison. Levi was in the air when he heard someone mention a bus. He stopped and asked whose report was about the bus and was met with silence. He again asked whose report was about the bus and again silence. They flew to Kibbutz Bet Oren and were over the bus but could not see it. After about 15 minutes, they heard shouting, that there were wounded and dead. The fire truck that responded tried to save the screaming cadets and sprayed water on them. The flames were relentless. They came from everywhere. Suddenly a private car appeared, a photographer… the hero in charge screamed to him to get out of there, but not until he had managed to shove 3 survivors into the car. 4 lives were saved that day. The firefighters stayed and continued to spray water until it was gone."