|The funeral of the Haifa police chief, Ahuva Tomer, on Monday. |
Photo Credit: Tara Todras-Whitehill/Associated Press
JERUSALEM — A police spokesman, Micky Rosenfeld, said the boy, from the Carmel area where the fire began, admitted under questioning that he had been smoking a tobacco water pipe, or Hookah (Narghile), and threw away a hot coal that set off the fire. He fled the flames, and without sounding any alert, went back to school, Mr. Rosenfeld said.
Two other minors who the police said were suspected of starting the fire by negligence — a 14- and 16-year-old from a Druse village — were released to house arrest on Monday. Their connection to the third boy was unclear.
The fire, which broke out in the forested hills near Haifa in northern Israel on Thursday, was mostly extinguished by Sunday evening, with officials crediting assistance from an international fleet of more than 30 firefighting aircraft and the so-called Supertanker, the world’s largest fire-extinguishing plane.
The death toll had stood at 41 until Monday, when the highest-ranking woman in the Israeli police, who had been critically injured in the wildfire died.
Many Israelis had been closely following the condition of the police chief of Haifa, Deputy Commander Ahuva Tomer, 52, as she hovered between life and death for four days. Ms. Tomer had become a national symbol in the fight against the worst fire in Israel’s history. A police spokesman said that she had been promoted posthumously to the rank of brigadier-general.
Ms. Tomer had been interviewed on Thursday while sitting at the wheel of her police car by an Israeli television reporter minutes before she set out and was caught in the flames. She had been traveling behind a busload of cadets training to become prison service officers, who had been sent north to help evacuate a prison threatened by the blaze.
The bus and Ms. Tomer’s car were engulfed by flames as the rapidly-spreading inferno was fanned by strong, unpredictable winds. Witnesses described the victims as being suddenly surrounded by walls of fire.
All 42 fatalities — including most of the cadets, two police officers and a 16-year-old boy from Haifa who was a volunteer with the fire service — were killed in the same firetrap.
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By ISABEL KERSHNER
Published: December 6, 2010