(photo credit: KKL)
"Do you see? There's still smoke here and there, even after the rain. That's why we still need to be on the alert," said Micah Silko, a KKL-JNF forester who was one of the people responsible for fighting and containing the huge forest fire that destroyed about 42,000 dunams of natural woodlands and planted forests. "People think that the pine trees, which burn very quickly, were responsible for the fire, but that's not true at all. 80% of the destroyed area was natural woodlands, not planted forests. KKL-JNF thins its forests and creates firebreaks and forest roads that become critical when there's a forest fire. When an area is left untouched, and grazing is not allowed, it burns rapidly, and access from the ground is basically impossible. Also, one needs to remember that Jerusalem pine is indigenous to the Carmel forests. The proof of this is that you also find them in Lebanon and Syria.
"On Thursday, the day the fire broke out, I was in Nahal Kishon, working on preparing a new bicycle trail along the streambed. I saw smoke and immediately got in my truck and started driving in the direction of the Carmel. As I drove, I got a call from KKL-JNF's forester Yaakov Arak about the fire. I was one of the first on the scene. Within minutes, there was already what we call a firestorm. It spread so far, so rapidly, that there was no way to control it. I called for the fire planes and all the firefighting forces available, and we started to do whatever we could. When I saw the sheer intensity of the fire, I knew it was going to develop into something different than anything we had ever seen before, because of the extreme, dry weather conditions and the winds.
"I started to do whatever could be done with tears in my eyes. I've been a forester for 25 years, and this forest is a major part of my life. We tried to set fire lines to stop the fire's advance. Our lives were in danger, because if the wind were to suddenly change direction, you can't escape.
"Before I would take a group of KKL-JNF firefighters to some spot, I first drove in with my truck, to make sure that I would never take them on a dead-end road that you can't escape from. Looking back, I realize that even though I instinctively knew that I was risking my life, I didn't think for a moment not to drive on those roads, but when I thought about my fellow KKL-JNF workers, I didn't want to send them anywhere I was afraid they couldn't escape from. There was a moment when I thought, it's too much, let's just get out of here and save our lives, but I remembered the trees that I've worked with all my life and I couldn't abandon them.
"On Friday, the second day of the fire, I was by Nahal Habustan, and there was a huge wall of fire coming in our direction. I understood that there was nothing to do on the ground, only fire planes could contain such intensity. I felt so useless, I understood that we were losing the forest we loved so much, the trees we used to eat lunch by. It really hit me hard when my 12-year old son Dar called me up and asked me, 'Dad, you can't stop the fire?' For him, his father was someone who could always do it, he'd heard about previous fires. I felt as if I let him down.
"The people who live in Usafiya and the nearby villages were incredible. Every time we came into town to fill our trucks up with water, they brought us tons of delicious homemade food. Their appreciation was really felt.
"Ever since this fire started, I’ve felt very uneasy, I haven’t really grasped what
happened here. This isn't the forest I used to know. I'm 47, and during my lifetime, I'm not going to see the forest come back to the way I remember it.
"Thinking about the future, I know that forest rehabilitation involves a lot of work. KKL-JNF policy is to allow the forest to rejuvenate naturally, but there's still a lot to do. For example, when pine tree sprouts first come up, it's like a lawn of baby trees that need to be thinned out and cared for. Now that the fire is basically over, I try to get strength from looking at the green of the forest that we did manage to save, and then looking at the black, burnt forest, and I know that our job is to bring the color green back to the Carmel."
For Articles, comments or use please contactAhuva Bar-LevKKL-JNF – Information and PublicationsEmail: [email protected]Phone: 972-2-6583354 Fax:972-2-6583493www.kkl.org.il/eng