Major fires around Haifa erupted in the north of the country last Tuesday, but by Thursday there were blazes across the country, with dry weather and high winds causing havoc and devastation. The situation was finally brought under control over the weekend, thanks to help from countries including Russia, Turkey and Greece. The Palestinian Authority also supplied 41 firefighters and eight fire trucks.
Natasha Rapport, a mum of two from Borehamwood who now lives in Talmon near Modiin, described being evacuated three times as an inferno fanned up the valley towards her home. “We were putting our eldest to bed when a friend in the next town called to warn me the valley between us was on fire. Minutes later the emergency services arrived, telling us to get out. I grabbed clothes and baby milk and ran to neighbours. An hour later, they too got the knock. We went to the town hall, as we drove we saw a sea of orange, the whole valley was ablaze. The intensity was frightening.”
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Natasha added: “It’s not knowing what is happening to your home that’s the worst. You think about all the precious things you left, like photos from your childhood. You wonder if you’ll even have a home to come back to. But we were lucky, compared to places like Haifa. There were only two houses lost. Ours was OK.”
Rachel Creeger, a theatre director from Barnet who was in Israel for a barmitzvah, had just gone to bed last Friday night when her host’s daughter began banging at the door, shouting: “Fire! Fire’s coming! We need to go.” This week she recalled her “terrifying” experience. “We could see flames from the garden coming from below the house. I came out to see a sudden gust of wind and flames up to the house,” she said.
“We ran down a footpath through the houses shouting at people to get out. Through the trees we could see the fire. The sky was full of glowing orange embers, which were strangely beautiful, then the terrible smell of smoke.”
She said the group then remembered an elderly couple and went back to check on them, before Rachel saw “what I can only describe as a wall of fire rise up”.
They headed for the local synagogue, the pre-arranged meeting place, but realised it was unsafe, so left for the village entrance. “We began to run, literally trying to out-run the flames and smoke. People in cars were stopping and offering lifts to whoever they could fit in. We managed to get out, with no plan of where to go.”
After a frantic, frenetic three hours, everyone was finally accounted for, but Creeger later heard of what happened after she had left. “I was devastated to learn that the house I’d been staying in had burnt to the ground, and that wonderful, warm family lost everything. So many people have lost so much, including the lady who drove us away from the flames.”
Elsewhere, Chigwell-born Janine Lev was staying with friends in Zichron Yaakov near Haifa, in the midst of the worst-affected area, when she was evacuated with her son and husband, Ronnie, who was one of the first to fight the fires.
“She was absolutely petrified,” said her step-mother Pam this week, as she revealed she had cancelled her trip next week.
“I was scared too. She was sending me photos from her balcony; there were flames all around, completely out of control. I’ve never seen anything like it. The fire spread so quickly. It took days to control. Schools, parks, they were all destroyed. It’s devastating, but thankfully everyone was OK.”