Firefighting teams from around the world flew into Israel on 3-5 December to help battle the largest fire in Israel's history which erupted on Thursday 2 December in the northern Carmel region and was extinguished Sunday 5 December around midnight.
A few hours after the fire took hold of the region, when it became clear that Israeli fire service could not cope with it, the Israeli government launched an international appeal for help. Israel also contacted the EU Monitoring and Information Centre (MIC) with a specific request for fire-delaying and extinguishing materials, such as anti-fire powder. In response, the MIC was activated and spread Israel's request to the 31 members of the EU Civil Protection Mechanism. Within hours, the Participating States offered the requested material and the delivery of assistance was coordinated by the MIC.
Overall at least 22 countries swiftly responded to the Israeli call. International firefighting teams started to arrive on site Friday morning. Greece, Spain, France, Cyprus, Croatia, Turkey, UK, USA and the Russian Federation offered fire fighting aircrafts. “34 planes and helicopters swooped over the Israeli woodland – the Israeli fire services spokesman said -, dumping tons of seawater onto the flames, but the blaze continued to burn out of control mostly due to the strong winds”.
Four Greek fire fighting planes were the first to arrive Friday morning followed by Cypriot, French and Turkish aircrafts on the same day. On 4 December two Russian Ilyushin Il-76 planes which are able to discharge 42 tons of water at once arrived and on 5 December an American Boeing 747 Supertanker, the biggest aerial firefighting weapon, joined the air fleet pouring some 82 tons of water at once and spraying flame retardant over the fire.
150 foreign firefighters have been working alongside hundreds of Israelis to contain the fires, 92 of them came from Bulgaria. Three teams were sent by the Palestinian Authority to support efforts and three others were sent from Jordan. The global effort to help Israel contain the fires also involved Egypt, Germany, Italy, Austria, Romania, Netherlands, Norway, Belgium, Azerbaijan, Switzerland, and Ukraine.
"I think this symbolises an unprecedented response to our request for international help," Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said. “The EU and our Member States have responded to this natural disaster with immediate and coordinated assistance,” highlighted Catherine Ashton, the High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy of the European Union in a statement.
The wildfire claimed 41 lives, scorched more than 5,000 hectares of woodland, destroyed millions of trees, devastated dozens of houses and forced the evacuations of more than 15,000 people from villages and towns close to the northern Israeli city of Haifa. Israeli media assessed the cost of the damage at over 400 million €.
Declaration of gratitude from the State of Israel to the Palestinian Authority
The State of Israel expresses its gratitude and deep appreciation to the Special Delegation from The Palestinian Authority for the invaluable contribution and exemplary courage in battling the blaze on Mt. Carmel. Signed Simon Peres, President of the State of Israel and Benjamin Netanyahu, Prime Minister of the State of Israel.