Eyewitness Report on Carmel Fire by Volunteer Firefighter, Benjamin Gibson, an Oleh and Student at Jewish Agency’s Ulpan at Kibbutz Ma’agan Michael.
My experience with the Carmel Fire started on Thursday night, the 2nd of December when I found out there was a large wildfire burning in the Carmel Forest. I was still at work in the Bustan, but when I returned home I called my Kibbutz Dad, Gideon. He said he was already at the fire with his son Steve. He apologized for not calling me but said he was trying to mobilize as fast as he could.
I spent the evening updating myself on the blaze and the tragic loss of life that had taken place. As an Oleh who is primarily educated in firefighting from the United States, I was going crazy not being there and helping out.
The next morning on Friday the 3rd, I got my chance to help out. Gideon called me from the dining hall and said he had come in late last night and was ready to head out again. I met him ten minutes later and we were on our way with his son Steve.
Our first mission was simple – to go around the Carmel Mountains through the burned areas and deliver water to a cattle farmer who’s water supply had been cut off. As we got closer to the fire I could see just how big and uncontrolled it was. We drove past numerous fire crews trying to put out spot fires before they spread to populated areas. When we arrived there we first stopped to give some horses water that had broken or been let out of their stables. After that we met with the farmer who led us in our fire truck down a rocky back road to his cattle area. When we arrived, his helpers all got big smiles on their face and some even clapped. We delivered our water and spoke with his helpers for a few minutes and were then on our way.
On our way back up the rocky road Gideon saw some spot fires in the forest and we stopped to put them out. We used our hands, feet and tools, as we had almost no water left.
When we arrived back at the main roads we found a water source and refilled our tank. Gideon flagged down some other crews and updated himself on what had been going on the last few hours. We headed down the road in order to make a loop and not cross through areas we had already been in. We drove by the spot where, tragically the bus carrying the prison guards had been burned up. It was a mournful and humbling site to see. It reminded me to stay on guard and remember my training.
We continued on until we reached highway 4 again where we proceeded to aid in putting a couple spot fires out with our deck gun, then we went to the command post and rehab center where there were some other crews resting and getting ready to head back out. We stopped while Gideon received our next assignment. He told us to re-fuel the fire truck but before we could, he came running back stating that “plans have changed” and we were off to a nearby gasoline station, not to refuel but to protect it because the winds had changed and now the fire was heading straight for it. Once we arrived we positioned our truck and deployed two hose lines up a hill and around back of the station. There were other crews doing the same thing. It was a race to get in position before the fire got to close. We all started spraying water as soon as we could and attacked fire from safe positions while other units dowsed unburned brush and trees so it could not spread and overwhelm us.
Once the flames were out and the excitement went away we all packed up our hoses and prepared for the next task. It was then I found out I was working with Israeli crews as well as Bulgarians who had been rushed in to help out. I had heard rumor that they were flown on the Bulgarian President’s personal aircraft just to help us. I was humbled and thankful.
Unfortunately, after saving the gasoline station and packing up Gideon noticed our truck had sprung a minor oil leak. We headed back to the command post where he talked to a mechanic. The decision was made to head home so we didn’t cause further damage to our truck. We started on our way home as the sun was setting. We were tired but we felt good about being able to help out in any way we could. I am proud to say I helped out even though I’m a very new Oleh, and I am proud to say that the kibbutz that has been my home and family for the last four months, Kibbutz Ma’agan Michael, showed up to the Carmel Fire and put forth effort for the greater good.