It was a different kind of mission for the IAF: a wildfire in Carmel mountains lead to the enlistment of dozens of IAF personnel to act on IAF bases, in forward command centers, and in the field, against the flames
The central aerial force in combating the flames was from abroad, and the IAF was responsible for coordinating amongst the various parties to ensure that foreign crews could be of help as soon as they landed.
“We had to deal with an ongoing event, and we didn’t know when it would end”, explained Col. Y., commander of the Cooperation Unit of the IAF who served as the Commander of the Forward Command Center during the fire. “The fire spread unexpectedly and we had to coordinate many aircraft operating simultaneously in a small area in order to put out the fire as quickly as possible”.
Members of the IAF that were closest to the fire were, of course, the
firefighters from IAF bases who joined with the civilian firefighters in an
effort to control the flames.
“The many firefighting crews that the IAF sent to the areas of the fire performed exceptionally well”, said Amir Levy, Commander of the Israeli Fire Fighting Services in the Western Galilee. “Despite the much training that we have conducted over the years this was a wildfire that we could not have dealt with alone. The cooperation between the different agencies was excellent and the contribution of the IAF firefighters was significant. The firefighters, just like the members of the IAF who escorted us from the incident command center gave us the feeling that we could deal with the great challenge before us”.
But the firefighters were not the only forces of the IAF that joined in the
“At the beginning of the wildfire, we asked from the Home Front
Command to receive resources. We never imagined to ourselves
that we would receive such quality resources, and never believed that the
system would function like a well oiled machine”, explains Levy.
The high quality resources that Levy refers to are the unmanned aircraft of
the IAF, which escorted the firefighters on the ground from above throughout
The UAVs surveyed the area, located the centers of the fire and kept the firefighters themselves away from the areas where the flames continued uncontrollably.
“Our aerial perspective allows us to update the firefighters in real time on the progress of the fire”, said one of the UAV controllers in the incident command center of the IAF.
“In addition, we located facilities that could be a potential explosive hazard, such as gas tanks, fuel tanks, and hazardous materials, and redirected the firemen on the ground in order to prevent further tragedy”.
The firefighting mission was a challenging and not so simple experience for
the air traffic control teams of the IAF, who had to direct a large number
of aircraft in a very small airspace.
“On board every foreign plane was an Israeli crew member, but the coordination between all of the aircraft was still very complex”, explained Lt. Col. Yariv, head of the air traffic control crew. “Our role was also to direct the aerial firefighting crews to the centers of the different fires. Although this was a task that we were unaccustomed to, we learned quickly how to adapt to the needs of the ground and the capabilities of the air”.
In one dramatic incident, a combat engineering team of the IDF found
themselves trapped in the fire.
“They went in with a D-9 bulldozer in order to clear the brushwood that would fuel the spread of the fire”, said Captain R., one of the combat navigators in the incident command center. “At a certain point, the bulldozer caught on fire and the crew was stuck there. We diverted a firefighting plane from a different mission to pass over the place where they were, creating an escape route for them, clear of fire, and they managed to leave the area”.
On one day of the wildfire, several members of the air traffic control team
joined the firefighting forces.
“We left for the area of the fire in order to better understand the area and to direct the aerial firefighting crews more accurately”, explained Captain Amit, an air traffic control team member who participated in the mission. “We were together with the firefighters who knew the terrain well and could predict upcoming scenarios. Everyone learned new concepts like ‘fire line’ and ‘blockade line’ and also, more than anything; we learned that hidden behind the gray overalls of the firefighters were fascinating people, who do such Sisyphean and important work”.
The IAF was, naturally, also responsible for the absorption of the aerial
crews and aircraft that arrived from abroad to help Israel fight the
30 aircraft from 11 different countries landed and took off from IAF bases, where the many technical crews of the IAF were made available to them. Overall, the planes and helicopters of the IAF and from around the world flew 681 sorties in order to fight the fire.
“There’s no one plane in the world that could put out such a fire”, said Brig. Gen. Eden, Commander of Nevatim IAF base, who handled the large firefighting aircraft from Russia and the USA and accompanied the pilot of the American ‘Super Tanker’ in the cockpit. “When you want to put out a fire of such a scope, you need to juggle the various abilities of the aircraft. It was a great challenge, but it’s what we did”.