Following the news that the huge wildfire in areas around Yerushalayim had been contained on Tuesday night, it emerged that a disaster rivaling the Carmel Fire in 2010 was narrowly averted by the quick and courageous action of senior Israeli police officials.
Only a last-minute evacuation by police at the Eitanim psychiatric hospital saved the lives of 156 residents and staff, according to media reports. It was nearly a replay of the tragic Carmel fire in which 44 people died.
Police commander Kobi Yaakobi told Channel 13 news: “I saw one big flame here, and we were thinking how we [do] get up there?” as he surveyed the one road leading up to the hospital as nearby flames threatened.
He said he met a fire official and told him: “You and I are going to the hospital now. I don’t know how, but you are getting me to the hospital. We must get to them; if we don’t, they won’t get out of there.”
Upon approaching the buildings, Yaakobi made the decision to enter the dense smoke with his staff and said the driver could only see about a foot and a half ahead.
Yaakobi told the police communication network: “The fire will reach the people in a minute. We must do everything fast. I’m getting them out in cars. I’m not waiting for any bus.”
Chief Superintendent Dvir Tamim, the head of the Yasam police unit, described the harrowing scene:
“The whole hospital was engulfed in smoke. It was one big chaos. Staff members, patients, all shouting,” Tamim said, adding that he called in many Yasam members to help with the evacuation.
In the fright and confusion, some patients resisted to being suddently snatched away in cars by unknown people.
“They lay down on the floor and I was forcibly getting them into cars. Some of them objected and didn’t understand who had come to evacuate them by force. And everything was being done inside smoke, with watering eyes,” Yaakovi recounted.
In the end, everyone was brought out safely.
Firefighters ultimately saved the hospital from burning down, and it remained largely undamaged.
Prof. Gadi Lubin, manager of the Eitanim hospital, thanked Yaakobi and told Channel 13 that his contribution to the successful evacuation was “very, very significant.”