Israeli forest fire 'under control'

Israeli forest fire 'under control'

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A jumbo jet is used to spray fire extinguishing material over the blaze (AP)

An inferno that has raged for four days in a northern Israeli forest is under control.

The operation to tackle the fire was helped in part by the world’s largest flying fire extinguisher – a Boeing 747 from the US carrying 20,000 gallons of water and fire retardants.

Meanwhile, two teenage brothers have been arrested in connection with the country’s worst forest fire, which has killed 41 people and has been tearing through the Carmel forest near Haifa since Thursday.

Israeli officials could not confirm Israeli media reports that the boys arrested inadvertently sparked the blaze with a bonfire and a water pipe. Their aunt, identified only as Abir in an Army Radio interview, denied they were responsible.

“Our news for this evening is control,” fire official Boaz Rakia said on Sunday, though he added that the blaze is still burning in some places.

He said that most of the thousands of Israelis evacuated from their homes would be allowed to return.

“From our point of view, the danger has passed for all the places that were evacuated,” Mr Rakia said. The sole exception, he said, was Bet Oren, a collective farming village in the heart of the fire zone where extensive fire damage would prevent residents from immediately returning.

Prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu had appealed to the international community for help, and countries in the immediate region and as far afield as Russia and the US have dispatched planes, firefighters and materials to help battle the blaze.

Israel leased the Boeing 747 Supertanker from a private US company. It has a number advantages in addition to its size and capacity, it is able to operate at night, a feature that the other firefighting aircraft in the mission do not share.

Palestinian firefighters, ordinarily barred from entering Israel, crossed the border to join the international effort. Team leader Ibrahim Ayish, from Bethlehem, said the 21 Palestinian firefighters hoped that by helping to put out the blaze, they could ignite some good will between two sides more often embroiled in conflict.

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