Thursday, December 1, 2016

The Real Story Begins: One Week After Haifa’s Fires - by Sheri Oz

...There was no rancour in the tone of anyone with whom I spoke. Not a representative random sample, I know. But the feeling in the air was: we will overcome! The blackened hills made me feel sick to my stomach, but you could see the preparations for renewal and rejuvenation and I could almost imagine the budding new branches that will poke their way out when spring comes in a few months....Give us time to lick our wounds, orient ourselves and wake up to a new day. We ARE a stiff-necked people, stubborn as Hell.

Sheri Oz..
Israel Diaries..
01 December '16..

Haifa’s fire story, like Israel’s story, is one of renewal and rebuilding. The fire totally destroyed over 500 homes, leaving over 1500 residents with no place to return as the city got the all clear. But that is only where this story begins. The blackened patches of earth will not stay black forever and the homes will be rebuilt. This is the first article in a series.

* * * * *

I live in a neighbourhood in Haifa that was not affected by the fire and I was on a trip to the Negev while parts of the city I love were going up in flames. I returned after calm had been restored and those who could, were returning to their homes, while those who could not, had to start piecing their lives together out of the ashes. On Wednesday morning, November 30th, a week after the fires had started, I decided to drive around the city and see what footprints the fire had left on Haifa.

Driving up to the French Carmel for my Pilates session from Bat Galim, where I live, was no different yesterday than any other time I had ever gone by that route. Just about every road longer than a couple of blocks curves its way around the contours of the hills on which Haifa grew. And around each curve is a new vista, whether that is a view of the Mediterranean Sea or of the valleys between the hills, or of the the coastal plain that reaches from the beach and deeper east and north of Haifa to other towns and cities. It is a city-with-a-view-from-almost-anywhere.

After Pilates class, I drove toward Old Romema, one of the places the fire had struck. As soon as I neared the last roundabout before reaching Pica Street, a major road connecting several neighbourhoods, I thought I smelled the smell of a dead fire. A campfire leaves a very slight dead-fire odour when you extinguish it and this was unmistakable. At the same time, I wondered if I was just imagining it, if my mind was playing tricks on me. The fire had been out for days . . . was it possible for the smell to linger this long?

I was soon to discover that, whereas each curve in Haifa’s roads generally brings a new view, it was now either to bring a new smell that would forewarn me of the blackened hills I was about to see or a clean smell that made it seem there were never any fires at all....

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