Sebastian Scheiner  /  AP
A firefighting plane sprays fire extinguishing material over the fire in Ein Hod, northern Israel, Saturday, Dec. 4, 2010. Residents of a fire-devastated community in northern Israel put out small blazes with hoses and pleaded with firefighters to save their homes, as the worst blaze in the country's history licked through hilly forests on Saturday. (AP Photo/Sebastian Scheiner)
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updated 12/4/2010 7:21:23 PM ET 2010-12-05T00:21:23

Negligence, not arson, appears to have caused the worst forest fire in Israel's history, police said Saturday as firefighters from around the world worked to quell the deadly blaze for a third consecutive day.

Two people were arrested in connection with the fire, police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said without providing further details about the suspects. "We're talking negligence at the moment," Rosenfeld said.

Israel Radio, citing unidentified police officials, said the blaze likely was started by a family that failed to extinguish a picnic fire.

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The blaze, which broke out Thursday, tore through the hilly pine Carmel Forest that clings to the mountain ridge above the northern city of Haifa, Israel's third-largest city. It also lapped at the edges of small outlying communities.

The blaze has killed 41 people — most of them prison guards whose bus was engulfed by flames as they rushed to evacuate a prison. More than 17,000 people have been displaced.

Critics contrasted Israel's helplessness in the face of a wildfire with its reputation for swift and effective responses to disasters abroad.

"We are experts in some tragedies but it seems we were not really prepared for an event related to fire," said Hanan Goder, a spokesman for the Foreign Ministry, which is helping to coordinate the international response to the fire.

Israeli firefighters have complained for years of undersized crews, outdated equipment and minimal supplies. The country only has 1,400 firefighters, far below the worldwide average.

In the small artist community of Ein Hod, one woman desperately tried to protect her house from the encroaching flames with only a garden hose.

Another resident said he returned to his home after initially agreeing to evacuate.

Sebastian Scheiner  /  AP
Local residents spray water while battling a forest fire in Ein Hod, northern Israel, Saturday.

"If we don't protect our house, nobody will," Gal Yarkoni told Israel's Channel 10.

International aid continued to flow into Israel in an effort to quell the fire, which continued Saturday to rage out of control for a third day.

Video: 2 arrested in connection with Israeli blaze (on this page)

U.S. planes laden with equipment were expected to land later Saturday, alongside aircraft sent from New York City's firefighting department, an Israeli military official said. French and Italian firefighting planes were also expected.

The aircraft are expected to join firefighters and planes that already have arrived from Bulgaria, Greece, Jordan, Turkey, Russia, Cyprus and Britain.

By Saturday, the fire had burnt some 15 square miles of land — at least half of the Carmel national forest, Goder said.

Story: World helps fight Israel's worst-ever wildfire

While small by international standards, the loss of the verdant forest was keenly felt in Israel, where only 7 percent of the land is wooded.

Copyright 2010 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Video: 2 arrested in connection with Israeli blaze

Photos: Devastating forest fire in Israel

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  1. An Israeli police officer comforts her colleague during the funeral of Haifa police chief Ahuva Tomer, in the northern Israeli city of Haifa, on Monday, Dec. 6. Tomer, Israel's top policewoman, clung to life for four days after her patrol car was trapped in a burning forest, died Monday of her wounds. (Tara Todras-Whitehill / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  2. Remains of buildings stand after a massive wildfire in northern Israel on Tuesday, Dec. 7. The fire broke out Thursday and burned a 20-square-mile area in the Carmel forest, a popular nature spot on Haifa's outskirts. The blaze was brought under control late Sunday and damages overall have been estimated in the hundreds of millions of dollars. Although the wildfire was small by international standards, it was considered a calamity in Israel, where only 7 percent of the land is wooded. (Sebastian Scheiner / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  3. US Evergreen 747 supertanker sprays a burning area in Ein Hod in the Carmel Forest in the outskirts of Haifa on Dec. 5, as dozens of firefighting planes from around the world battled the blaze. (Jack Guez / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  4. An Israeli firefighter attempts to extinguish a blaze in the youth village (boarding school) of Yemin Orde, near the northern city of Haifa, Israel, Dec. 5. (Tara Todras-whitehill / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  5. A man inspects the remains of a burnt house in the village of Ein Hod, outside Haifa, Israel, on Dec. 5. (Abir Sultan / EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  6. Israeli police officers mourn during the funeral of their comrade Yitzhak Melina in Haifa Dec. 5. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's government faced calls for consequences on Sunday over a huge four-day-old forest fire that has killed 41 people, including Melina, and been called the worst in Israel's history. (Ronen Zvulun / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  7. In this photo taken on Saturday, Dec. 4, smoke rises from a forest fire outside Haifa, Israel. (Dana Friedlander / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  8. Locals watch a firefighting plane spray fire extinguishing material over the wildfire on Dec. 4, in Ein Hod, Israel. (Uriel Sinai / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  9. Israeli residents look at the slope of the burning hill on the edge of Tirat Ha Carmel near the northern city of Haifa on Dec. 3, 2010. Around 40 people are believed to have been killed in the devastating forest fire burning. (Marco Longari / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  10. Israeli firefighters put out the massive forest fire that broke out Thursday in the Tirat HaCarmel in the north of Israel, Dec. 3. Firefighting aircraft from four countries flew into Israel on Friday to help battle the fire close to the northern city of Haifa. (Baz Ratner / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  11. The burnt interior of a home in kibbutz Beit Oren, with the remains of furniture frames, destroyed in a wildfire in northern Israel is seen Friday, Dec. 3, 2010. Crews and equipment from around the world began arriving on Friday to help Israel's worst fire ever. The inferno, which also displaced thousands, is still raging through forests in northern Israel and on the outskirts of the country's third largest city, Haifa. (Dan Balilty / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  12. Firefighters rest on the road at sunrise after participating overnight in the efforts to gain control over a massive wildfire, still raging near by, in Tirat Hacarmel, northern Israel, Dec. 3. (Tsafrir Abayov / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  13. The bodies of victims from a bus that was trapped in a forest fire that broke out in the Carmel Forest, are seen on the road near the northern Israeli city of Haifa, Dec. 2. (Avishag Shar-yashuv / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  14. An Israeli woman holds the keys of her house in her left hand while taking a photo of a raging forest fire in the Carmel mountain from a residential house in the hills above the coastal Israeli city of Haifa, Dec. 2. (Marco Longari / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  15. An Israeli firefighter plane drops fire retardant on the forest fire in the Carmel Forest, near Israel's northern city of Haifa, Dec. 2. (Roy El / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  16. A fire-fighting plane flies over a forest fire that broke out in the kibbutz of Beit Oren in the north of Israel, Dec. 2. (Nir Elias / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  17. A burnt-out bus is seen near kibbutz Beit Oren, Dec. 2. The bus burst into flames as it raced to an Israeli prison during a massive forest fire Thursday, killing dozens of prison guards participating in the rescue mission, officials said, in one of the deadliest accidents in the nation's history. (Yaron Kaminsky / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  18. Fire rages out of control in the Carmel Forest near Israel's northern city of Haifa, Dec. 2. (David Buimovitch / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  19. An Israeli firefighter runs from raging fire in Beit Oren, Carmel Forest, near Israel's northern city of Haifa, Dec. 2. (David Buimovitch / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  20. A man stands beside his car as he looks at the forest fire in the Kibbutz of Beit Oren, northern Israel, Dec. 2. (Nir Elias / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  21. Israeli paramedics evacuate an injured policewoman from the scene of a forest fire that broke out near kibbutz Beit Oren in the north of Israel Dec. 2. (Stringer/israel / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  22. Israeli firefighters work at the site where fire raged out of control in the Carmel Forest near Israel's northern city of Haifa, Dec. 2. (Jack Guez / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  23. A fire that broke out in the Carmel Forest near the northern Israeli city of Haifa is seen in this aerial view Dec. 2. (Stringer/israel / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
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