Carmel Forest fire victims remembered a year on

An attempt to put out the blaze over the Carmel Forest

An attempt to put out the blaze over the Carmel Forest

A memorial to the victims of the worst natural disaster in Israeli history has been officially opened.

The Carmel Forest fire in December 2010 killed 44 people and led to the evacuation of 17,000 people.

The disaster took a heavy toll on Israel's wildlife – long a source of pride for the country – with some 12,000 acres burned and five million trees turned to ash.

At a ceremony in Kibbutz Beit Oren, family and friends of the victims – included among them a 16-year-old boy, fire fighters and cadets from the prison service – paid tribute to those who were lost.

Unveiling a cement wall with the victims' names inscribed on it, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu spoke of the legacy of heroism which the victims had left behind and "the great dedication they displayed in the face of fire as they went out to save lives.

"Comfort can also be found in the fact that the entire nation of Israel recognises this legacy," he added. "Even when this mountain will be entirely green again, the memory of your loved ones will remain present here forever,"

The Knesset Speaker, Reuven Rivlin, also spoke at the ceremony, acknowledging the widespread criticism that Israel was "caught unprepared" when the fire spread.

"We must translate our rage and fury into a determined demand for change and comprehensive reforms that will protect us from natural disasters," he added.

The initial suspicion was that the fire was sparked by teenagers playing in the area, but the case against them collapsed earlier this year for lack of evidence.

Last updated: 5:47pm, December 19 2011