JERUSALEM — The worst forest fire in Israel's history has produced a new hero for the country: a police chief hailed for her bravery and self-sacrifice in rushing into the flames to accompany rescuers.
The death Monday of police Chief Ahuva Tomer from her burns comes amid widespread Israeli anger and disappointment with their leaders' handling of the fire, which took 42 lives and burned half of one of the country's most popular forests.
Tomer's patrol car was engulfed by flames minutes after she was interviewed on national TV during the five-day saga.
Tomer's sacrifice brought back images of a bygone era when leaders were seen as selfless heroes. "Her last moment, when her car touched the fire, she looked out at us," President Shimon Peres said in a eulogy for Tomer. "That's a moment none of us will forget … a high point in her bravery."
Tomer, 53, was following a bus of prison guards on their way to evacuate prisoners from a jail Thursday when her car and the bus were engulfed by the flames. Minutes later, Israeli media reported, a desperate Tomer radioed to say she was on fire. Thirty-seven on the bus were killed.
Several thousand people attended her funeral in Haifa, where she had been police chief since last year. Tomer, who was born in the Soviet Union and came to Israel as a toddler, was a 30-year police veteran and was seen as a ground breaker for female police officers.