It was about ten o'clock in the morning when I noticed a strong smell of smoke. I looked out of the window and saw ash floating in the wind. I quickly closed all the windows and checked the news sites. They were reporting a fire elsewhere in Haifa, and it took a while for them to report that there was also a fire quite close to our home. I then found out that they were saying our road was being evacuated. I didn't really know what to do, and since I had an idea that when you are told to evacuate you just leave, without wasting time packing and saving precious possessions, I did just that.
|Smoke coming from the east|
As I walked, I could see the smoke coming from the direction of my home. I tried to get away, sometimes stopping to check the news, talk to people on the phone or by text messages, and take photos. I had to take a break every now and then to rest my arms. Carrying a cat in a carrier is not easy over long distances. I saw a few other people with cat carriers, and more with dogs. After a while, the news site reported that an evacuation centre had been opened at the Haifa Auditorium, where I have seen many concerts and films and ceremonies. This was in the direction I was heading anyway, so I decided to go there.
|Smoke in Haifa|
|Firefighter plane above Haifa|
On Friday morning we waited for the authorities to say everyone who had been evacuated could return home. We were relieved to come back in the afternoon and find our home undamaged, though some buildings further up the road and down the hillside had reportedly been damaged or completely destroyed.
|Used fire hoses abandoned up our road|
|Remains of a motorbike up our road|
|Burned trees down the hill from our road|
The lessons I have learned from this experience: First, it would be worth having a small emergency bag packed and ready. This should contain a change of clothes, basic toiletries, bottled water, and a phone charger. I was grateful for the offers of help and for people getting in touch to see if I was safe. I was also grateful that nobody was killed in the fires, and it did seem that the firefighters did a good job and coordinated well. The evacuation was less efficient than it could have been, but it seemed that most people sought help from family and friends rather than from the authorities. Several countries sent firefighters and firefighter planes or vehicles to help with the efforts.
We are now waiting for the fires in other parts of the country to be put out. This is why we always want it to rain as early as possible in the autumn or winter. People in rainy countries don't often understand how important it is to get rain in a dry country, where there is no significant rain for 8-9 months of the year. Lack of rain is a serious issue for us, both for our agriculture and because it creates an increased risk of fires, such as the Carmel Forest fire almost exactly six years ago.
There have also been reports that some of the fires were started deliberately, and some people started calling it "arson terrorism". A few suspects have been arrested. Even if this is true, making public declarations about terrorism only serves to incite more hatred and distrust at a time when we should all be working together. Haifa is famed for its coexistence, and the Israeli Arab community as a whole has been offering help to those who have lost their homes. Obviously, most Arabs disapprove of burning down cities. Even Turkey and the Palestinian Authority sent firefighters to help, despite any political disagreements. There have also been fires in Arab areas and in the Palestinian Authority territories, and it seems unlikely that all or even half of the fires were arson.
In emergency situations, it seems that some people focus on survival and become hostile and suspicious, while others want to help and maintain social cohesion. We all live in this world together, and nobody benefits from watching it burn. I would like to thank and congratulate those who helped others, offered to help others, and focused on the positive.