Netanyahu visits burning Haifa, vows to respond forcefully to acts of arson

The Prime Minister said he has instructed the security establishment to treat acts of arson the same way as terrorism. Firefighters are still trying to gain control of the flames engulfing the northern city, as well as other fires across the country.
Photo credit: Reuters/Channel 2 News

About 300 firefighters are still working to extinguish the massive fire that broke out Thursday morning in Haifa. Police have evacuated about 70,000 residents from 12 neighborhoods out of concern for their safety. The 747 Supertanker, the world's largest fire-fighting aircraft, is expected to arrive in Israel within the next 24 hours.

Due to the strong winds, firefighting forces are preparing to remain in the area for an extended period of time. In the meantime, police are working to maintain public order in the city and have recently arrested two individuals suspected of stealing property from abandoned homes.

In a complex operation, police evacuated the Damon prison and its inmates were transferred to other prisons. In addition, the IDF Police has begun to evacuate the nearby military prion known as Prison Six. Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan has also ordered the evacuation of the Carmel prison out of concern that the flames may reach it overnight.

The army has cancelled all leaves and vacations for combat troops until further instructions, in order to maintain a high level of preparedness.

Haifa in flames Photo credit: Channel 2 News

MDA paramedics have treated over 100 people who inhaled smoke since the morning hours, all of whom are in good condition.

Police Chief Roni Alsheikh has ordered Haifa residents who are trapped inside their homes to hang a white blanket on their street-side windows so that rescue forces can spot them.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu held a press conference in Haifa and addressed the growing suspicion of arson. "Any fire that was started intentionally will be dealt with as an act of terrorism," he said. "We will severely punish anyone who tries to burn parts of our country."

Many foreign countries have sent planes to aid the Israeli forces. As of now, planes from Greece, Turkey, Croatia and Cyprus have already started to operate.

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