The Mount Carmel forest fire disaster began on December 2, 2010 at about 10:30 AM, Israel time. It was the deadliest forest fire disaster in Israel’s history that started on Mount Carmel range just south of Haifa. The fire that spread quickly, consumed much of the natural forest and claimed the lives of 44 people, a driver and 37 Israel prison service officer cadets, three fire fighters and three police officers.
Among the dead was fire fighter Danny Hayat, age 35, who survived broken hearted pregnant wife, Hofit, two sons, Koren and Itai, parents, Batsheva and Moti, a younger brother and sister and a special fire fighters’ unit he founded. And the nation of Israel in shock.
While on an official visit in the United States, this week, I was given the privilege to have a heart to heart interview with Batsheva, Danny’s mother. Here is what she has told me, some we heard already and some not yet.
Moti Hayat, Danny’s father, comes from a large family of thirteen children and his mother, Batsheva’s family was blessed with seven children. Batsheva is an elementary school teacher. Danny was their first born, the first grandchild on both sides.
Danny and Hofit were married nine years before the horrific day when Danny’s life was cut short.
Danny loved the Carmel mountain ridge and was very familiar with its terrain. He and Hofit knew they were expecting a daughter, today two and a half year old. Two months before the expected birth they already prepared a name for the baby girl, Ellah, named after the tree Ellah, among the most common indigenous trees growing on the Carmel ridge; also the name means God is for her.
Where did Danny get his love for nature? From his mother who taught her children to love the outdoors of all its aspects.
When Danny joined the fire fighters’ force, he founded a special unit its expertise was rescue operation from rivers, ravines and cliffs. Danny received his training and skill in France and upon his return he became an instructor in this particular rescuing filed. He often took his unit to train on the Carmel.
That horrific day Danny, who lived and worked in the Afula, a town in the Jezreel Valley, received the call as the fire begun. He and his friend and colleague Uri Samandiev arrived at the fire scene with their fire truck an hour later.
They were on the road going up the mountain working to prevent the fire from spreading and reaching the road so that cars could not travel on it. They were heading for the Damon prison when they caught up with police officers in their cars, cowboy farmers, a nature photographer and a bus with 37 prison guard cadets. They all encountered a huge fire wall that did not allow them to proceed with their escape travel. As they tried turning the other way, hoping that the fire has not reached there yet, they encountered another fire wall. Within seconds the wind that blew from all directions caused the fire to engulfed them from all directions pushing, spreading and fueling the fire which trapped all of them and consumed them in no time.
Danny was working the hose attempting to rescue some. He managed to save the life of the photographer and three of the prison cadets when he wet their cars which allowed them the get out of the fire trap.
All others were burned in front of Danny’s eye who was already 80% burnt. With his last drop of energy he got into his fire truck that rolled down 300 meters; another fire truck picked Danny up and brought him to the Rambam Medical Center where he fought for his life for sixteen days to no avail.
Batsheva and Hofit are full of gratitude and in owe with Keren Hayesod – United Israel Appeal, Mudi Zandberg, World Chairman, that accompanied then from the moment Danny was hospitalized. The organization assisted in purchasing skin graft from overseas sources in the endless attempt to save Danny’s life. Also they helped building the memorial site for the dead on top of the Carmel Mountain, today, a pilgrimage site.
Do you blame anyone? I asked Batsheva.
“No,” she says. “The human being cannot fight nature.”
When Hofit and Batsheva heard of the fire disaster in Arizona that consumed the lives of 19 fire fighters they felt the urge to help. The American tragedy was theirs too; it returned them to their difficult days and they identified with the families of the dead and wanted to be with them and strengthen them, cry with them and be part of their sorrow and grief. They addressed their wish to Keren Hayesod and prime minister Netanyah, both approve and backed their idea and wish.
The private human visit to Arizona was made possible, a meeting between nations, identifying with the American nation and its pain and paying gratitude to the American people who were first to help Israel in its predicament sending the first Super Tanker to extinguish the fire.
While in Prescott, Hofit and Batsheva were wrapped in love and the warmest reception given to them by the mayor, the governor and congressmen.
They are also full of gratitude to the Israel consul general in Los Angeles its staff accompanied them from the moment they arrived on America’s soil.
What have you achieved that is the most important to you? I asked.
“The best public relations Israel could obtain,” replied Batsheva. “But now my next wish and dream is to be instrumental in establishing cooperation and collaboration between the fire fighters of Israel and the United States who have much more experience than their Israeli counterparts.”
After the Carmel disaster prime minster Netanyahu revolutionized the fire department services. He purchased a fire air squadron of 3-4 planes, and attached the fires services to the Homeland Security offices along with the police and the prison wardens. He poured millions of Shekel into training 1000 new fire fighters, now added to the force and purchased new fire trucks and rebuild the force.
Danny Hayat was a 13 years veteran of the fire department services. His mother and wife came to America to strengthen their counterparts in Arizona who suffered the same grief. Instead they were reinforced with a huge hug and sympathy they received from all whom they met.
After Danny’s passing his brother Ron left his studies at the university and have joined the fire fighters’ force. He now shares his life activities between his love for soccer, playing for Hapoel Beit She’an as its most promising player and his work as a fire fighter.
Ron Hayat, life between two tracks [in Hebrew]
Danny’s sister is a practicing lawyer.Danny’s wife Hofit is like a daughter to Batsheva and Moti. Danny’s boys deal with the tragedy, each in his way and according to their age. Ellah will know her father from stories only.
Batsheva wants her wish for cooperation between Israeli and American fire fighters to materialize so that the friendly relations between the two nations grow, strengthen and expand. A goal easy to achieve; after all the road to reach this goal has been paved already.