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Israel fire eyewitness: 'We were trying to out-run the flames'

    Fire rages in Haifa
    Fire rages in Haifa

    Rachel Creeger had gone to bed after a happy day in the company of relatives in the village of Neve Tzuf.

    Shortly afterwards, there was a banging on her door.

    One of her host's daughters shouted: "Fire, fire is coming, we need to get out!"

    She threw a coat at Ms Creeger, who picked up her bag and ran for the exit.

    "The hostess called out that she was grabbing her phone and I ran back in to get mine too, while her husband went to turn off the electricity.

    A couple grieve over their destroyed home in Neve Tzuf
    A couple grieve over their destroyed home in Neve Tzuf

    "We came out and met in front of the house. There was a sudden gust of wind and I saw the flames rise up to the house," wrote Ms Creeger in a Facebook post on Sunday.

    Then, a moment of horror. Ms Creeger, who was visiting Neve Tzuf to attend the barmitzvah of a cousin's son, asked her host's daughters about the location of her relatives' house. The girls pointed to the house saying they were sure everyone had been evacuated.

    "At that moment we saw a figure moving about behind the curtains and realised that they were still inside," wrote Ms Creeger.

    "The girls ran in to make them hurry and there was another gust of wind, and what I can only describe as a wall of fire rose up further down the road. I began to scream: 'the fire's here, get out, run!'

    "My relatives and their host family ran out in their pyjamas, shoes and coats - there was no time for them to bring anything.

    "We began to run towards the exit of the village, literally trying to out-run the flames and smoke. Those community members who had managed to get their cars were stopping and offering lifts to whoever they could fit in. Others were shouting that they were looking for their kids or their spouse. Someone had two seats so we sent our young cousins into that car. We continued to run and eventually another car offered the three of us places."

    Ms Creeger, a former Hasmonean pupil who is a playwright, director and comedy performer based in the UK, was eventually reunited with her cousins who had been safely evacuated to a nearby village.

    According to Benjamin Reisman, Ms Creeger's cousin, whose son was barmitzvah the day after the fire struck, 15 houses in his West Bank settlement were burnt down - but nobody was injured.

    Ms Creeger added the experience had been "incredibly traumatic", although she was "so grateful to be alive and well, and to have been with family.

    "I will never forget the kindness shown to us, especially from my host family who had to worry about a stranger as well as their children."

    Meanwhile, in Haifa, charity director Shimon Sabag had to take emergency action to save several elderly people as flames licked close to their homes.

    "Some were crying, some were in hysteria, and some were in shock," he told the JC.

    Mr Sabag hauled them out, some of them in wheelchairs or hooked up to oxygen tanks. "We didn't have the equipment of firefighters or paramedics, just some protective masks," he said, adding that the flames were "dozens of metres away."

    As the head of Yad Ezer La-Haver, a charity that cares for Shoah survivors, Mr Sabag felt the responsibility to go to the rescue of other elderly people.

    Elsewhere, paramedic Aviran Ashkenazi was stopping other Haifa residents from returning to their homes to gather possessions. "I tried to explain to them that the fragments in the smoke were almost as dangerous as the flames themselves," he said. There was confusion everywhere and "people didn't know what was going on, and if they did they didn't know exactly where the fire was or what to do."

    Although he is a seasoned medic, even he was taken aback by the scale of the fire. "I was very scared," he said. "There were moments when it was difficult to breathe."

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