On the first day of Hanukkah—a Thursday—a devastating fire broke out on the mountain top near where Elijah had called down fire from heaven. This fire, the worst in the history of Israel, was driven by violent winds which sent it out of control for four days.
A teenager from a Druze village high in the Carmel Mountains was smoking a nargile—a Middle Eastern glass bottle in which smoke from charcoal is drawn through water before inhaled. Afterwards the kid threw the still burning charcoal in a field and went off to school.
At around 11:00 a.m. a Israeli flight instructor spotted below a tiny blaze just outside the Druze village of Isfiya—overlooking Haifa—and alerted the fire department. Hampered by an immense lack of equipment and personnel, the little fire brigade managed to get to the scene around 1:00 p.m.
To their utter horror, the firemen found themselves facing a massive wall of fire. The winds over the Carmel Mountains howled furiously through the dry tinder and underbrush in a way that even old timers in the fire truck had never seen.
As is done in Israel, the firemen called for an agriculture crop duster to spray fire retardants. At 1:45 p.m. the first makeshift firefighting aircraft came to the rescue. But by this time a cascading conflagration was racing down the mountains toward a prison holding mainly Palestinian prisoners—500 in all.
Elad, an Israeli 16-year-old volunteer fireman scout was in civics class when he heard about the fire. He had volunteered hundreds of times and was determined to join the firefighters heading for the Carmel forest fire. Calling his mother to pick him up from school, he rushed to the blaze.
The Prison Service was notified that they must urgently evacuate the prisoners. A bus load of 40 cadets—with Elad—left upper Haifa and then turned a sharp right and headed down the narrow winding Highway 721 through the gorgeous national forest and wild life reserve.
An Israeli National Geographic photographer, Roni Sofer, was traveling down that same road with a police car behind him and then the bus with the cadets, and behind it another police car with Haifa’s fire chief. The fire had been reported to be southeast, several kilometers away near the area of Isfiya.
As the convoy rounded a corner, they could not believe their eyes. In front, cutting off the road was a wall of fire like they had never imagined. Suddenly, to their left, a monstrous inferno raced down the mountainside threatening to cut them off from behind.
The photographer began to back up his car. The bus saw what was happening and also attempted to turn around, but a burning tree fell and blocked the bus. Sofer passed the bus backing up and then turned around.
He now saw that at unimaginable speed the inferno had jumped the highway and closed off the road in front of him. At that moment he was sure that within seconds he would die.
As he looked through his rear view mirror, he saw the bus beginning to go up in flames. As he lurched forward, he turned his camera towards the back of the car and took pictures out the back window.
Three of the cadets raced towards Sofer screaming “Save us!” They jumped into Sofer’s car. He then stepped on the gas and wildly drove through the wall of fire.
His car began to melt and catch fire—and then suddenly he was on the other side of the cloud of fire and there was a fire truck spraying him down. He and three cadets were saved.
Up on a hill a few hundred feet away, another photographer, Dan Amir, watched in horror as the bus caught fire. In minutes the fire pushed on, leaving nothing but ashes behind.
Thirty-seven young men and women—Jews, Arabs and Druze—burned to death in seconds, including the 16-year-old Elad. Haifa’s Chief of Police, the highest woman police officer in Israel who had been in her car behind the bus held on to life for four days and died, as did five other policemen.
The nation froze as they listened to the report. They sat transfixed in front of their televisions all weekend, watching exhausted firemen dealing with the lethal inferno.
Israel is small. When disaster hits, the people mourn as one voice. On Thursday evening, the firefighting services spokesman went on TV and publicly begged every firefighter in the country to come immediately to fight the fire. The fire departments in Israel are run locally in each area so there was no automatic way to strategically plan to efficiently use even the limited equipment and personnel available.
Then Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu did something never before done in Israel. He began making phone calls to the heads of nations and urgently requesting them to send fire-fighting planes and equipment. Israel’s firefighters understood that without planes this raging inferno would twist and burn all the way to the Mediterranean Sea, incinerating everything in its path.
As night fell, a government official cried on TV that the nation had virtually no fire retardant or fire-suppressing foam in the whole country! The supply for 2010 had been used up with the 1200 fires they had already fought! Nobody had expected there to be more fires in December!
The official acknowledged that the Carmel forest fire was completely out of control. Moreover, Israel itself has great pilots but only makeshift crop-sprayer planes—and only 1400 firemen and women—a ratio of one to 6,000 civilians, when the average in the West is one firefighter to every 1,000 civilians. At dawn Friday morning, Israel’s crop-sprayers were in the air along with the first of 33 fire-fighting aircraft from 16 countries around the world that began arriving and were immediately put to work.
Planes, firefighters and equipment poured into Israel from friendly countries—Germany, Italy, Holland, Cyprus, Greece, Bulgaria, Croatia and others. They came from Russia, Spain, Switzerland, the U.K. and U.S. But they also came from Muslim countries—Egypt, Jordan and wonder of wonders, Turkey!—the country that sent the Flotilla to break Israel’s blockade against Hamas.
But the most amazing act of generosity came from the Palestinians—sending three fire trucks and crews to fight the fire. The men told Israel TV that every one of the Palestinian firefighters on the West Bank wanted to be selected to come and help fight Israel’s forest fire.
All day Friday the Russian, Greek, Turkish and many other nations’ planes sprayed their chemicals on the fire. What an operation it was for Israel’s Air Force with the babble of some 15 different languages and maneuvering the many planes among the flames. (Israeli pilots flew in every plane to coordinate the operations.)
By nightfall it seemed that progress had been made. But during the night ferocious winds whipped up the flames and by Saturday morning the conflagration was as out of control as ever. Small fire-fighting aircraft cannot fly at night.
Several villages and towns were on fire and 17,000 people were evacuated from their homes—including suburbs of Haifa. Israelis took in the stranded evacuees to their homes—as Israelis do—not caring if they were Jews, Arabs or Druze.
Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, the head of the Shas party, announced that the devastating Carmel fire was a result of insufficient Sabbath observance in the area.
“Fires only happen in a place where the Sabbath is desecrated,” he said. “We must repent and keep the Sabbath appropriately.” How sad that this great Jewish rabbi understands nothing about true repentance.
In all the agony suffered by the Israeli people, the one silver lining around the terrible clouds of smoke was the outpouring of care and sympathy displayed by the nations that responded with real compassion.
Israel often feels that it doesn’t have a single friend among the nations of the world. This tragedy proved that for now it is not true.
The fire raged on through Saturday with Israeli pilots fighting with their makeshift planes and the nations spraying the southern part of the forest. By this time a great Evergreen 747 supertanker was on its way to help, the largest fire-fighting plane in the world.
Israel’s government found the U.S. private company on Google and hired it on the telephone. On Sunday morning it appeared, swooping back and forth over the Carmel forest for an hour getting its bearings. All Israel watched its every move.
So much hope was dependent on this huge beautiful bird. At last it banked low over the hills spewing 95,000 liters of fire resistant chemicals and water. With only two rounds it hit the bull’s eye where the greatest conflagration still leaped along, gobbling everything in its way.
At that moment, the nation heaved a great sigh. The monster had been slain. For the first time firefighters on the ground actually entered deep into the forest beating down every smoking brand.
The four-day forest fire was Israel’s worst in the history of the nation. Five million trees—out of the 8,000,000 in the Carmel Forest were destroyed. In all, 250 homes burned and thousands of animals were killed in the Carmel Nature Reserve. Not counting the forest, the cost of fire damage is estimated at some $325,000,000.
Now the incriminations and accusations of why Israel was so ill prepared for such a fire would begin.
Watch these amazing condensed videos of the Carmel fire—how it started and how it progressed. (The videos—Day 1, Day 2, Day 3—have 24 hours of footage pass by in just over 2 minutes)
Pundits are doing some soul-searching, even if the government may not be.
Will the Carmel fire disaster wake up those in power?
The Jerusalem Post editorial writes, “Israel’s unpreparedness in other fields is inviting the next tragedy. Prevention is still an option.”
Here are a few of the dangers.
Every 80 years on the average, there is an earthquake of 6 or more on the Richter scale. The last one took place in 1927—83 years ago. A government survey announced that of 650,000 structures in the country, there are 96,000 residential buildings (mostly large apartment complexes) in danger of collapsing in the event of a massive earthquake—most built before 1980 when the government introduced the international standards for earthquakes.
In 2005 a nationwide program was announced to give financial incentives to reinforce older buildings—so far a few dozen have been repaired.
Hezbollah has in its possession 45,000 rockets which could produce multiple megafires in forests and in urban and suburban areas. Where is the plan to totally reorganize the infrastructure and expand fire-fighting equipment and personnel?
A national home front emergency command center needs to be operative, coordinating police, homefront security, firefighters and security agencies. No such infrastructure exists. Yet the danger of a nuclear or biological attack is real.
Great lack of hospital beds (1.98 per 1,000 residents compared to 5.7 in Germany.) Lack of medical staff because of low pay. What if war resulted in hundreds or thousands of wounded Israelis? No plan in place.
To Israel’s embarrassment, the U.S. FAA has downgraded Israel to Category 2 in safety rating—in particular its regulation of light, private and sports aviation, and because Israel does not have an alternative to Ben-Gurion Airport for handling operational irregularities. Why wait for a disaster?
Israel is out of water. This summer the water level of the Sea of Galilee is expected to go below the black line—a level that experts say will cause irreversible damage to the lake. The coastal aquifers will become saline when the fresh water level drops low enough to mix with the salt water seeping in from the Mediterranean. Many articles have been written about creating an emergency water plan to cover the next two years until new desalination plants begin operating. The Israeli people are still waiting for the government to act.
The Carmel Assembly, a Messianic congregation, is on the edge of the Druze village Isfiya. It is here, a few minutes walk from their property, that a Druze teenager carelessly started the terrible forest fire.
Carmel Assembly is known as a praying congregation. Four couples lead the congregation and spend great amounts of time in prayer. The Messianic congregation meets in their building built near where Elijah prayed down fire from heaven to prove to the Israeli people that the God of Israel is the true God.
Early Tuesday morning, two days before the fire, Peter Tsukahira, one of the leaders, had a dream which he retells.
As I was waking up on Tuesday morning I had a very vivid dream. I was standing in the parking lot of our ministry center (where we also house about 40 African refugees and staff) and I saw a small private plane fly low and dive over the roof of our congregational worship center.
There was a loud explosion and when I ran to a place where I could see over the top of the worship center there was a huge pillar of fire, burning like a furnace, rising from the forest beyond.
As I looked, there was another column of fire and smoke rising about two kilometers beyond it.
I ran to alert our staff but then I realized I was in a bathrobe and needed to get dressed first! Then I woke up.
The fire broke out on Thursday morning and when my wife Rita and I stood on the roof of the worship center that evening watching the flames approach, I told her, “This is exactly what I saw in my dream!”
Later, when other countries sent help to Israel in order to put out the fire, the sky over our ministry center was literally filled with small and large private planes dropping water and fire-retardant chemicals on the forest.
If the winds had blown eastward, our buildings and much of the Druze village would have gone up in flames. Even though we were evacuated, we continued to pray that God would protect His property. In so doing, His protection extended to Isfiya, the Druze village.
The fact of my being in a bathrobe leads me to believe that God is warning all of us to be prepared for greater testing to come. Yeshua taught that the end times would be characterized by “wars and rumors of wars” but that these were just the beginnings of “birth pangs.”
During the fire our buildings were without water and electricity. Our cell phones became useless as the batteries died. The generator we had for emergencies didn’t function properly. We did not have enough flashlights.
The people of Israel are very concerned for the future.
One journalist wrote, “There are a great many reasons to avoid war. This week, we discovered another one: the home front is not prepared—and it’s hard to believe it ever will be prepared. The next war won’t be another picnic somewhere over there on a distant front… the next war will have no winners, only victims.”
In these last few days, we have been through a crisis that was like a war—a single birth pang. God sheltered us and no one was hurt. But it was like a dry run for us. The next crisis will undoubtedly be worse and we, the Messianic community of Israel, need to be prepared—spiritually and physically.
Our nation will be looking for answers and we must be ready for whatever God calls us to do.
Peter and Rita Tsukahira are co-founders of Carmel Assembly. Rita is a member of the Maoz board. www.carmel-assembly.org.il
Crises and threats of crises are part of daily life in Israel—last month the worst forest fire in the history of Israel, five days later the most destructive storm to hit our shores in 50 years—after nine months of no rain.
The danger of nuclear weapons in the hands of irrational regimes, such as North Korea and Iran, continues. The imminent risk of the walls of Mosques on the Temple Mount collapsing could cause a cataclysmic upheaval in the Muslim world.
Also last month one of the largest cell phone networks in Israel shut down inexplicably for 24 hours. The collapse of worldwide information, communication, or banking networks could happen one day.
The first angel sounded: hail and fire mixed with blood were thrown to the earth. A third of the trees were burned up…
Obviously we haven’t reached the level of disasters as noted even in the first trumpet. However we are moving in that direction. World disasters will become increasingly more intense. One day there will be a war that will kill one third of the world population.
…were released to kill a third of mankind. Now the number of the army of the horsemen was 200,000,000. I heard the number.
A third of mankind would be approximately two billion people. An army of two hundred million will attack. Numbers for an army that size and the numbers killed of that size could potentially be fulfilled by an Islamic Jihad war against India-China-South East Asia. (Interestingly, the passage speaks of the origin of the army in the Euphrates area—verse 14.)
… I will protect you from the hour of trial which will come upon the whole world, to test those who dwell upon the earth.
This verse does not mean that God will remove us from the planet, but that He will protect us during trials and tribulations. There is a specific time coming of worldwide disaster.
The word “hour” does not mean 60 minutes; it does mean that the time will be relatively short, and it will be controlled and limited. Worldwide disaster is coming; it will be limited in time; God will protect us.
God does not call crises “disaster,” but “testing.” Despite the hardship and suffering, there will be a hidden purpose of God. There is one purpose toward “non-believers” and another for “believers.” Although most unbelievers will not respond correctly, God’s purpose is to convince them to repent of wickedness.
…the rest of mankind did not repent…
…they did not repent…
God’s purpose for the faithful believers is to forge them and refine them for their special destiny.
You are worthy to take the scroll, and to open its seals; and have redeemed us to God by Your blood out of every tribe and tongue and people and nation; and have made us kings and priests to our God; and we shall reign on the earth.
The scroll of God contains His plan. The seals mean that this plan is hidden to most people. Yeshua, who opens the seals, brings God’s plan to come to pass. He reveals that plan to those who serve Him. This verse explains several key elements:
God has a plan. Things are not “going out of control.” God’s plan is not a spontaneous reaction to circumstances, but one that is prepared before hand.
Yeshua is the victor. He opens the seals. He conquers sin and Satan; death and hell. He is the leader of the kingdom. He is the Lion of the tribe of Judah (verse 5).
We have a destiny. God is using the end times difficulties to purify and strengthen the heart of the righteous to be a special people, as priests and kings (spiritual and government leaders).
We will reign with Him. Our destiny is to rule in the world together with Yeshua. It is difficult now, but it will be worth it in the end.
… They lived and reigned with Messiah for a thousand years.
We face times of increasing tribulation in the end times. Those tribulations are a judgment against the world; a purification of the Church; a preparation of a special people for God; and a warning for people of every nation to repent. The tribulations of the end times culminate in a massive world war in which all the nations attack Israel (Zechariah 14).
At that time Yeshua will return as the head of the Church, the king of Israel, and the commander of Heaven’s army.
At that time the dead will be raised; the devil will be incarcerated; and the kingdom of God set up on earth for a thousand years, with its capital in Jerusalem. After that there will come an even better world, the New Creation and New Jerusalem.
The tabernacle of God is with men, and He will dwell with them… God will wipe away every tear… There will be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying.
There will be a perfect world for eternity. The Garden of Eden will be restored. Tribulation is temporary while paradise is permanent. Let us be strong in our faith and endure to the end.
Asher Intrater is leader of Congregation Ahavat Yeshua and director of Revive Israel Ministries.
Begin this new year by joining Maoz Israel as a co-worker for the Lost Sheep of Israel!
Maoz Israel Ministries offers you the opportunity to make an impact with your life
in reaching Israelis with the Message of Eternal Life.
- Multiple outreaches to the lost
- Teaching and discipleship of Israeli followers of Yeshua
- Cooperating with many different Israeli Messianic ministries and charitable organizations
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- Mentoring and serving young pastors and their wives
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- Disaster aid during times of national emergencies