Forest Fires Rage as Israel's Rainy Season Fails to Arrive

By KKL-JNF
November 17, 2010 14:52

KKL-JNF firefighting teams seemed to be in action almost everywhere in the Western Galilee and Golan Heights.




KKL-JNF

KKL-JNF. (photo credit: KKL-JNF)

"A huge forest fire that is destroying young man-planted forests and natural woodlands is raging as of the morning of Tuesday, November 16, at Segev Forest in the Western Galilee. There are seven firefighting teams at the site along with three airplanes. The fire is as of yet not under control." This press release, which was published Tuesday morning, is unfortunately typical of news flashes about the forest fires that have been blazing in Israel's forests and nature reserves over the past few days of November, a month that usually ushers in Israel's winter rainy season, and the time when people normally put on their heaters for the first time. This year, however, no rain has fallen, and no rain is in sight. And it takes next to nothing to set the dry open spaces on fire.

KKL-JNF firefighting teams seemed to be in action almost everywhere in the Western Galilee and Golan Heights. On one day in the Western Galilee, 50 dunams of forest burned at Ahim Mountain; a natural forest was destroyed near the village of Hararit where KKL-JNF firefighters, together with an airplane, were barely able to stop the fire before it endangered the homes of local residents; in Ga'aton and Nofit, fires broke out that destroyed many dunams of natural forests; and at Neve Ziv, six KKL-JNF firefighting teams assisted by airplanes fought to control a fire that was caused by someone burning pruned olive tree branches.

And in the Golan Heights, on November 7, over 13,000 dunams of natural forest, grazing lands and agricultural land in the Southern Golan Heights were totally destroyed. The director of KKL-JNF's Coastal Plain Region, Gilad Mastai, said that the natural woodlands would be fully rehabilitated only 30 years from now: "There is nothing more painful than to see a forest you planted with your own hands go up in flames," Gilad said. "It hurts like a sharp pain in the heart. Reptiles like turtles, snakes and lizards were killed in the fires, along with hyenas and jackals. It was very complicated to get the fire under control because of the difficult terrain and the impossible weather – the unseasonable heat and the winds. The fire trucks couldn't reach all the places where the fire was raging, so the fires in these places could only be put out from the air or by firefighters on foot.

"I would like to take this opportunity to remind everyone that fires should be lit only in the places allotted them. These places are free of weeds, they have a water supply and KKL-JNF supervisors and foresters monitor them."

The cause of this particular fire was, sadly enough, the good intentions of a participant in the Rainbow Festival that was being held at the site. For ecological reasons, she burned toilet paper she had used so as not to leave it in nature, and in normal circumstances, that would have been the thing to do. However, due to the strong winds and the unseasonable hot air, the dry grasses caught on fire immediately, and the fire spread in four different directions simultaneously.
   
Was this the last major forest fire in the Golan Heights? Unfortunately, not by a long shot. About a week later, on the same Tuesday, November 16 that so many fires broke out in the Western Galilee, over 10,000 dunams of Golan Height grasses, river vegetation and natural forests went up in flames. Dozens of KKL-JNF and local firefighters, park employees, soldiers, cowboys and social workers spent hours trying to put out what was the third fire in this region in a month. Authorities believe that the blaze may have been caused by metal thieves in the area of the Eliad Junction.

"It's a disaster," said Raz Amir, head of the Golan area for the Israel Nature and Parks Authority. "We saw animals burned before our eyes. Flames were leaping 20 meters in the air, and there were tremendous temperatures. The damage to the reserve is enormous, tree groves that were hundreds of years old were destroyed. It will take many years before the riverside habitats recover. It's a heavy blow. You have to realize that every tree that grows here by the river for decades has an entire ecological system around it. The fire destroyed entire strands of trees, including grapevines, fig trees, poplars and willows. I am afraid that the Griffon vultures won't return to nest at the stream next year."

The recent fires join the other forest fires that broke out during August in making this one of the worst years Israel has ever experienced in terms of damage to its forests, parks and open spaces. It means that KKL-JNF will have its hands full trying to repair the damage done throughout the country and to bring the color green back to the charcoal-colored hills, a task that could not be accomplished without the support of its friends throughout the world. Everyone in the country is anxiously waiting for the winter rains to finally begin, as water sources are drying up and there has been no rain to replenish them.

KKL-JNF invests more than $5,000,000 annually in fighting fires in Israel's forests and open spaces. This sum includes maintenance and operation of KKL-JNF's firefighting services, which include 22 firefighting vehicles, dozens of fire fighters on duty 24 hours a day, communications systems and 30 fire watchtowers in forests throughout the country that are manned around the clock. The modern firefighting vehicles, which were purchased with the support of friends of KKL-JNF worldwide, can traverse tough terrains and thick forests.  KKL-JNF also operates a forest fire risk forecast service as well as participating in the management of an aerial firefighting fund and forest fires investigations, along with the implementation of conclusions arrived at from past experience.

For Articles, comments or use please contact
 Ahuva Bar-Lev
KKL-JNF – Information and Publications
Email: ahuvab@kkl.org.il 
 Phone: 972-2-6583354 Fax:972-2-6583493


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