JERUSALEM — Israeli officials said an inferno that has raged for four days in a northern Israeli forest was under control by nightfall, helped in part by the world's largest flying fire extinguisher — a Boeing 747 from the United States carrying 20,000 gallons of water and fire retardants that joined the efforts on Sunday.
Two teenage brothers were arrested Saturday in connection with the country's worst forest fire, which has killed 41 people, most of them prison guards whose bus was trapped by the flames while they were en route to evacuate a prison. The blaze has been tearing through the Carmel forest near Israel's third-largest city, Haifa, since Thursday.
"Our news for this evening is control," fire official Boaz Rakia told reporters at nightfall Sunday. "The fire department has declared that the fire is under control." He added that the blaze is still burning in some places.
He said most of the thousands of Israelis evacuated from their homes would be allowed to return.
"From our point of view, the danger has passed for all the places that were evacuated," Rakia said. The sole exception, he said, was Bet Oren, a collective farming village in the heart of the fire zone, where extensive fire damage would prevent residents from returning.
Police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld told the Associated Press there have been 20 arson attempts in other forests over the past 48 hours.
The huge fire in the Carmel forest caught the country — which prides itself on its technological prowess, ability to improvise and rescue expertise — woefully unprepared. That has provoked a public backlash against officials from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on down.
Netanyahu has appealed to the international community for help, and countries in the immediate region and as far afield as Russia and the United States have dispatched planes, firefighters and materials to help battle the blaze.
Israel leased the Boeing 747 Supertanker from a private U.S. company. It has a number of advantages in addition to its size and capacity.
It is able to operate at night, a feature that the other firefighting aircraft in the mission do not share. As a result, planes have been grounded by 5 p.m., and winds have been able to whip up nearly stilled fires after nightfall.
Palestinian firefighters ordinarily barred from entering Israel passed through the barrier that divides the two peoples on Sunday to join the international effort. Team leader Ibrahim Ayish, of the biblical West Bank town of Bethlehem, said the 21 Palestinian firefighters hoped that by helping to put out the blaze, they could ignite some goodwill between two sides more often embroiled in conflict.