The northern coastal city of Haifa has been one of the hardest hit as Israel closes its third day of intense battles against hundreds for fire related incidents, with 60,000 people evacuated, acres burned, and thousands of homes left without power.
Haifa Fire Department Spokesman Uri Chobotaro described "apocalyptic scenes" within the city nestled in the Carmel mountain range that is home to some 270,000.
"We have seen some apocalyptic scenes," he says. "We have seen houses burning down. We have seen trees, we've seen streets with people running out."
"But the way I see things, the most important detail that I can be proud of is that we have no loss of life and this is most important thing," he emphasized.
Haifa is no stranger to the dangers of wildfires. In 2010, the city was hit by another catastrophic fire, which has become known as the Carmel Disaster.
The Carmel disaster was the deadliest fire in Israeli history claiming 44 lives. It started on Mount Carmel, located just south of Haifa, burnt 50 square kilometers (12,000 acres) and destroyed 74 buildings.
"Since 2010 we managed to increase the amount of fire fighters drastically, we have increased the number of fire trucks- we have new fire trucks, we are building new fire stations and the fire planes help us a lot," he explained.
- Asked if the Haifa fire department had seen any indications of arson behind the fires, Chobotaro described the speed with which they erupted around the city.
- "Im working at Haifa fire services in our central station today at approximately 9:00 in the morning and we are doing checks on our equipment," he recalls. "Suddenly out of nowhere we see a lot of smoke and big flames. Somebody lit on fire the field that is next to us—huge flames, it was a matter of seconds."
- "The flames almost took our fire station and the fire trucks. Five minutes after this another one at the Halissa neighborhood, another five minutes gone and we had another one south of Haifa and ten minutes again after it started in another place," he continued.
- "It makes no sense."
"This is a very green city," he told i24news. "It is surround by forests and to set fires in the forest is a very easy game and this was executed in very many positions throughout the day."
"For the first time we have had to deal with many points of fire, which becuase of the very strong and extreme wind, has covered a vast area," he added.
As Israeli officials work to discern which fires were arson and which were caused by human negligence or nature, the former Head of Israel's Arson Investigation Unit Shalom Tsaroom explains what type of indicators investigators will be looking for.
"The chief of the police declared that most of them are arson cases but our mission as fire investigators is to prove it- not only to say it but you have to prove it and find evidence," he told i24news.
"If we found for instance, in a fire, that it was started in a few places at the same time, this is one of the indicators that we are talking about arson."
Asked how the authorities can trace arson based fires back to those started them, Tsaroom says that "it depends on what evidence you can find."
"If you can find for instance a shoe print you can do something with this. If you can find remains of Molotov cocktails or Molotov bottles, in some cases you can develop fingerprints, etc."
Ofer Bloch, CEO Israel electric company, declared a state of emergency because of the fires. At the fires' peak 12,000 people in Haifa were without power, which was shut off intentionally to minimize damage. As of Thursday night, power had been restored to most homes, leaving less than 3,000 people without electricity.
Police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld told i24news that at the end of the night, the eight fires burning in and around Haifa were largely under control.
Source: i24News, Agencies