Smoke from the fires blazing in northern Israel can be seen from space. (photo credit: Haaretz)

Arson was first believed to be responsible for “the biggest inferno in the country’s history.”  But now police have arrested two youths from a Druze village and say negligence may be the cause, not arson. A major investigation continues. Meanwhile, firefighters are having a difficult time containing the blaze, and the smoke is now visible from space.

At the request of one of our key allies in Israel, The Joshua Fund has begun funding relief efforts to care for those Israelis who are suffering as a result of the fires — if you would like to make a tax-deductible contribution to help, please click here. And please click here to read the latest update on The Joshua Fund blog.

SATURDAY UPDATE: “As the sun set on Saturday evening over the scarred and still burning Carmel Mountains, police and firefighters took cautious satisfaction in progress that had been made after more than 36 hours of relentless battle against the monstrous inferno, and took up defensive positions around Haifa, Usfiya and other communities, while hoping that nocturnal winds would not undo all of their hard work,” reported the Jerusalem Post. “A fleet of international assistance aircraft from Russia, Greece, France, Bulgaria, Britain, Turkey and Italy flew sortie after sortie over the flames, dropping large quantities of water and fire retardants, before returning for more runs. On the ground, besieged firefighters managed to beat the fires back from Nir Etzion, Ein Hod, Haifa’s Denya neighborhood, and the Tirat Hacarmel – Atlit area.”

Also, there is growing concern by Israelis that their government was not — and is not — adequately prepared to fight massive fires.

  • A Jerusalem Post columnist wrote: “Why, for years, have the Fire Services’ entreaties for greater budgets – to replace and supplement dismally antiquated equipment and bolster manpower from the current 1,400 to 2,400 – been rebuffed? Why is it only now that the government is promising to purchase the fire-fighting planes the service had been begging for? Why were the stockpiles of fire-fighting materials so low? Why, after the Fire Service stated explicitly during its worst-case scenario emergency drill in May that it simply lacked the resources to confront precisely this kind of disaster, was that anguished warning ignored? Just days ago, on November 24, The Jerusalem Post had noted that ‘For decades there has been talk about equipping our fire-crews with amphibian planes capable of ferrying in water and dousing flames from above.’ The editorial, written after a fire broke out high in Tel Aviv’s Shalom Tower, pointed out that ‘Such planes aren’t only the answer for skyscrapers but also for the sort of brush fires that have decimated many Golan nature reserves in recent months. However,’ we added bitterly, ‘these planes are costly and each day that passes disaster-free is all too evidently another day that the expense can be put off and out-of-mind.’”
  • A Ynet columnist wrote: “Imagine that a missile barrage landed Thursday on the Carmel, in central Israel, or in the Galilee region, producing fires in five different sites. What state would this country be in then? Thursday’s catastrophe is merely an example of the helplessness of the State of Israel’s emergency services. The weakest link within this establishment is the fire department…We don’t really have a national firefighting force. What we have is some brave people risking their lives, but we also have people who are turning these brave souls into a laughing stock with improper equipment and standards only familiar in the Third World.
  • A Haaretz story reported: “The [Israeli] Interior Minister, Shas leader Eli Yishai, responded on Saturday evening for the first time to criticism leveled at him for the performance of the country’s firefighting services, which fall under his purview, in the massive fire burning through the Carmel region of northern Israel. The minister emphasized in an interview with Channel 2 throughout his political career, there was no issue that he dealt with more than the firefighting services in Israel, which are, in his words, in a ‘catastrophic condition….'”

FRIDAY UPDATE: “Mass evacuations continued across northern Israel Friday morning as dry easterly winds fanned a massive brushfire towards the city of Haifa,” reports Haaretz. “Over 17,000 residents, including 600 prison inmates, were evacuated as the blaze raged out of control, devastating hundreds of acres of pine forest before sweeping down the slopes of the Carmel plateau towards Israel’s third largest city.” Here is video of Israelis battling the fires.

NEW PRAYER REQUESTS — please pray….

Thanks so much, and may the Lord bless you as you pray faithfully for Israel, help The Joshua Fund care for Israelis affected by the fires, and mobilize others to get involved to help, as well.

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