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Officials: Firefighters making progress on Israel blaze

By the CNN Wire Staff
  • NEW: Resident: "I don't even have clothes to wear right now"
  • The "major sources" of wildfire have been extinguished
  • The Israeli government approves funding for victims
  • The fire has killed 41 people and injured 17

See more photos of the fire's devastation here.

Jerusalem (CNN) -- The "major sources" of a deadly Israeli wildfire have been extinguished, police said Sunday, as the Israeli cabinet approved a plan to speed aid to those affected.

The cabinet's vote, at a special meeting near the area affected by the fire, came after Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu urged haste.

"I do not want delays," Netanyahu said. "I do not want bureaucracy. I want processes to be shortened. I want quick solutions. I want all of the people -- within days -- to be able to return to their homes or to alternative housing, until the reconstruction work is finished."

The fire, which broke out Thursday, has killed at least 41 people and injured at least 17 others.

Firefighters have gained control over "several of the major fire fronts," police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said Sunday. "The fire is still burning in a few areas, but the major sources of the fire have been extinguished."

The cabinet approved a series of steps aimed at kick-starting a quick response to victims. The Finance Ministry will allocate 60 million shekels ($16 million) in aid to local communities affected by the fire. Netanyahu instructed that more funding be considered if necessary. The plan will include compensating local governments for damages "in order to meet the costs of evacuating and absorbing populations, firefighting efforts, clean-up and dealing with infrastructures," according to a government statement.

Israel's wall of fire

Yaniv Shahar of Beit Oren, who lost his house and car to the flames, said the money is sorely needed but described his mood as "pessimistic."

"I see how they move us from one place to the other," he said. "I feel like a homeless person. I hope they would find solutions quickly. I don't even have clothes to wear right now. There are a lot of donations in the kibbutz where we found refuge, but we need money."

The government said Israel's Housing Administration will station mobile structures in the communities to stand in for homes and public structures that were destroyed. A plan will also be formulated to restore animal and plant life affected in the Carmel Nature Reserve.

Netanyahu said Israel's requests for aid from other countries, as other nations have done when faced with a wildfire, has "led to results."

"The firefighters are doing holy work, but it must be understood that this kind of wildfire can only be defeated and extinguished from the air," he said. "On this we have been working day and night. We have mobilized over 30 aircraft from the nations of the world."

Shahar said he nearly saw the flames as they approached his home but managed to escape at "the very last moment" by running into a forest.

"It is a complete shock to return home and see that there is nothing left," he said. "I have nothing left of my photos, my memories, my history."

Earlier, Israel's minister of public security said firefighters are "close to the end."

"I hope that we can finish this story within a day or two," said Yitzhak Aharonovitz.

And fire and rescue services spokesman said that although a new front of the fire had rekindled near the village of Isfiya, "it is now under control."

"There are other local new fires on a small scale due to the high temperatures in the area today," Yoram Levi said.

Palestinians announced Sunday the deployment of more crews into Israel, including three additional fire engines, to assist with the efforts.

On Saturday, Netanyahu said he "had a very good and warm talk" with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.

"I expressed appreciation both for this step and for his solidarity in conveying his condolences, as others have also done, and I told him that we are in the same neighborhood," Netanyahu told reporters. The fire is sometimes here and sometimes there."

Israeli police arrested two suspects Saturday in connection with the deadly wildfire, though Rosenfeld said it appears the fires started out of negligence.

Rosenfeld said the suspects were being questioned at a local police station.

The flames, fueled by high, shifting winds, have spread over 10,000 acres around Haifa, Israel's third largest city, threatening businesses, tourism and one of Israel's greenest regions, Mount Carmel.

About 17,000 people have been evacuated.

The American Jewish Committee announced it is making an initial $100,000 donation to Israeli organizations assisting with relief from the fire.

On Saturday, Netanyahu described the help Israel has received from other nations, including Egypt, Turkey and Jordan, as "heartwarming," the Jerusalem Post reported.

"One thing is clear, the Israeli people are standing together and many, many countries are together with Israel. This is no small thing," Netanyahu said during a press conference.

"This is surely a point of light in this our festival of lights Hanukkah," he said.

At least 10 different countries have offered their assistance and firefighting equipment, according to Netanyahu's office, including an American Boeing 747 "Super Tanker" firefighting plane, which began operating Sunday.

Additionally, five U.S. Defense Department aircraft were designated to help with the efforts.

They include three C-130 firefighting aircraft from the U.S. Air Force Reserve and Air National Guard and two C-130s from the U.S. European Command, which will depart Ramstein Air Base in Germany carrying 20 tons of fire retardant, the U.S. Agency for International Development said.

Two funerals took place Saturday after another eight were held Friday for those killed, Rosenfeld said.

Most of the 41 victims were cadets in Israel's prison service who arrived Thursday to help evacuate 500 inmates from the Damon prison near Haifa.

Among the dead, 40 were apparently burned alive when their bus, traveling along a narrow mountain road, was engulfed by the fast-moving blaze, the Jerusalem Post reported.

In an interview with the newspaper, a firefighter spokesman said the bus was gone in less than three minutes.

"The bus had no chance. They tried to escape but were burned alive," the spokesman said. "It was a horrific scene."

The IDF said the victims will be buried with full honors in military ceremonies.

Built on the slopes of Mount Carmel about 50 miles north of Tel Aviv, Haifa's metropolitan area is also host to historical sites that date to Biblical times.

The fire has also threatened a sensitive ecological area near the Hai Bar nature reserve. Known as Mount Carmel's "Little Switzerland," the reserve is home to a wildlife preservation project that seeks to bring back native species mentioned in the Old Testament.

Though Israel is known for its military might, it has been criticized for failing to properly handle the blazes.

CNN's Guy Azriel, Paula Hancocks and Paul Colsey contributed to this report.