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Teen detained after firefighters douse Israeli wildfire

By the CNN Wire Staff
  • NEW: Israeli policewoman dies, bringing death toll to 42
  • A 14-year-old boy admits to throwing pipe coals into the woods
  • The wildfire forces the evacuation of some 17,000 people
  • The Israeli government approves funding for victims

Jerusalem (CNN) -- Police who are investigating a major wildfire in northern Israel have detained a 14-year-old boy who admitted smoking a water pipe in the woods near his village, police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said.

The wildfire killed at least 42 people and forced the evacuation of thousands of others before it was extinguished Monday, police said.

The boy said he threw coals from his pipe in the woods, but then panicked and ran to school after the fire started. Two other teenagers who had been detained Monday have been released, Rosenfeld said.

About 1,500 firefighters are still in the area and on standby, police spokesman Rosenfeld said.

The fire, which broke out Thursday, forced the evacuations of about 17,000 people and scorched over 10,000 acres around Haifa, Israel's third largest city, threatening businesses, tourism and one of Israel's greenest regions, Mount Carmel.

Wildfire takes homes, memories and lives
Israel's wall of fire

The developments came a day after the Israeli Cabinet approved a plan to speed aid to those affected.

"I do not want delays," Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Sunday. "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 Cabinet has approved a series of steps aimed at kick-starting a quick response for 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.

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.

Most of the 42 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.

Police said late Monday that a policewoman had died of her wounds, bringing the death toll to 42.

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 Israeli military said the victims would 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.

CNN's Paula Hancocks contributed to this report.