The December 2010 Carmel wildfire consumed 35,000 dunams of forest and natural woodland, took the lives of 44 people and harmed residential areas and homes. Because of the extensive damage, the fire was declared a national disaster. Over the year that has passed since then, KKL JNF, with the assistance of its friends worldwide, has been helping nature regenerate itself, working on forest fire prevention and continuing to maintain the forest.
As the huge flames were consuming trees and wildlife in the forest, KKL JNF foresters were working day and night to extinguish the fires, alongside the Israel Fire and Rescue Services and fire fighters who arrived from all over the world. KKL JNF fire fighters fought for every tree, frequently risking their lives. These same foresters are now working on rehabilitating the trees that survived, on preventing future fires and on the development of tourist and recreational sites for the benefit of all the inhabitants of the region, and for the hikers and the many tourists who visit this still beautiful forest.
Rehabilitating the Carmel
A committee of experts, including government officials, green organizations, academic scholars and KKL JNF representatives, was formed for the purpose of implementing a national rehabilitation program. Alongside human intervention, nature has already begun to renew itself with vim and vigor.
Michael Weinberger, Regional Director at KKL JNF for the Western Galilee and the Carmel, explained that the forest restoration work has been focusing on felling the burnt trees and removing them from the forest, repairing terraces, planting new trees and creating firebreaks to prevent the next fire from spreading. A great deal of felling will be done in all the burnt areas. “Some of the trees survived and recovered, but the trees showing no signs of life after a whole year must be cut down and removed,” said Weinberger. Since the area is vast, and parts of it are inaccessible, the felling and clearing work is expected to take several years.
KKL JNF has also begun creating firebreaks around the communities in the vicinity of the forest and within the forest itself; an extensive and expensive process that involves a great deal of complex work. The procedure at present is not to fell all the trees in the firebreaks, but to create shaded fuel breaks. This forestry technique involves removing the brush and the fallen trees, which catch fire easily, but leaving the mature trees that are more resistant to fire.
A principal factor in forest rehabilitation is nature itself. Winter flowers have already begun to bloom in the burnt areas of the forest, which the new undergrowth has already begun to color green. The damage to the soil and the seed reserves, as a result of the extreme heat of the fire, impedes the growth of shrubs and flowers, but life has great force, and nature has been reviving itself even in the most charred areas.
Obviously, the process of regeneration is much more gradual for the trees. Deciduous trees, such as oak, pistachio and Judas, grow anew from the roots, which are not usually harmed by fires. Several trunks may sprout from the roots of a single tree, however, which requires pruning.
Coniferous trees, such as pines, renew themselves from the seeds of the burned trees released from inside their pinecones. This process, which is already evident on the Carmel, creates an overly dense forest, which also necessitates forest intervention in order to thin the trees and promote the development of a healthy and diversified forest.
“The goal is to intervene as little as possible in the rehabilitation of nature but to offer assistance where necessary,” said Micha Silko, KKL JNF Carmel forester. “Now that I am already seeing the changes taking place, I have no doubt that the Carmel will be successfully restored.”Volunteers from all Over the World
A major contribution to the restoration of the Carmel Forest and to the prevention of future fires has been made by the thousands of volunteers from all walks of life, who have come to the Carmel since the fire in order to help KKL JNF foresters. Over the year, about 18,000 people took part in volunteer work on the Carmel—students, families, soldiers, representatives of public and private organizations, missions from overseas, even professional foresters who came to volunteer and contribute their experience. The work invested by the many volunteers over the year has been estimated at over 13,000 workdays.
The work of the volunteers concentrates on thinning and pruning the trees and the underbrush. The objective is to decrease the organic material in the forest by a third, in order to reduce the damage fires cause by slowing down the spreading of the flames. In the event that there is a fire, explained KKL JNF forester Yaakov Arak, pruning the lower third of the trees reduces the risk of fire reaching the treetops and spreading faster. Some of the areas being treated lately are forested areas that sustained severe fire damage. The flora that has regenerated in these areas is characteristically dense, and in addition to pruning, it is also necessary to thin the young trees. “A correct ratio between the number of trees and the size of the area not only reduces the risk of fire but also ensures the healthy development of the forest,” said Arak.
Among the many volunteers on the Carmel, there were about 150 students from the Solomon Schechter School in New York, who came to Israel on a program called the Israel Experience. The young volunteers pruned, cut and cleared branches from the forest just like experienced foresters. Students from the Reali School in Haifa, who were providing hospitality for the American visitors during their visit, joined them for the work in the forest.
Marissa Kelly, 18, had been to Israel four times already, but this time was very special for her. “Because of this work in the forest, I understood that my role is not just to stand on the side and watch what is happening in Israel,” she said, “but to be involved and become a real part of what is happening here.”
“When I stand here in the Carmel Forest,” said Asher Novick, one of her classmates, “where those people died in the fire and there was so much damage to the environment, I’m proud to be given an opportunity to help Israel, even in such a small way.”
Adi Peleg, 13, from Haifa, said that meeting the American kids was very interesting, and that the two groups made personal connections right away. “They heard about the fire mainly through the news media,” said Adi, “but for us it was the area around our homes that went up in flames.”
The youngest volunteers to arrive this year were a group of about 50 ten and eleven year-old schoolchildren from the Yagel Yaakov School in Paris, who proved that small children can also do big things. “We want to help Israel be more green,” said Eitan Abutbul. “When I saw the fire on TV in France, I was very sad. I am proud of having a chance to be here and help. When children from France and Israel work together, it proves that all the Jewish people in the world are connected.”
Eti Azoulai, KKL-JNF Volunteer Work Coordinator, said that the involvement of the Israeli public and of communities all over the world indicates the feeling of participation and a sense of belonging, which is greatly appreciated. “This is not just another way to connect people to nature and to the landscape,” said Azoulai. “It is above all real assistance, which can help prevent the next forest fire.”Getting Involved in Forest Development
As soon as they heard about the fire, KKL JNF offices worldwide got to work for the rehabilitation of the Carmel, and generous donations were made for a variety of purposes: purchasing fire trucks, firefighting equipment and early warning systems, restoration projects in the damaged areas, and the development of recreation areas in place of those that were destroyed, including bicycle paths and hiking trails. Seven new fire trucks have already been purchased with contributions from friends of KKL JNF in USA, Holland, Germany, Switzerland an
d France. Firebreaks that will include 200 dunams of cleared area are now being created in different parts of the forest thanks to these contributions.
In the process of moving forward from the Carmel fire, it was decided to widen the firebreaks in forests all over Israel. Regional Director Michael Weinberger does not delude himself into thinking this is a perfect solution. “In the event of a fire storm, firebreaks will not completely stop the flames from spreading, although they will slow them down,” said the senior forester.
KKL JNF is also involved in repairing and improving the access roads to the residential communities. When there is a fire, accessibility plays a vital role in the ability of fire trucks to arrive swiftly and also in evacuating residents if they are in danger. During the Carmel fire, for example, 17,000 people were evacuated from their homes.
One of the unique initiatives undertaken recently has been the development of a grove of fruit trees on ancient terraces that were discovered near Nahal Bustan as a result of the fire. KKL JNF foresters were surprised to find the agricultural terraces, which had previously been concealed by the dense underbrush. As he pointed out new growth at the foot of a charred tree trunk, forester Micha Silko said, “We found small, new olive trees here this summer, growing from tree roots that survived, so we decided to plant a grove of fruit trees with carobs, figs and pomegranates, and restore the landscape as it apparently once was.”
Other projects in various stages of planning or implementation thanks to contributions from all over the world include the Hof Hacarmel Scenic Road in Ofer Forest- upgrading the 3.5 km road that already exists; Hurvat Hermesh Recreation Area- a picnic area and hiking trail site; Volunteer Center- a place for Carmel restoration volunteers to meet or board; Ein Hod Playground- replacing the old playground equipment and adding exercise facilities; Nir Etzion Exercise Playground- installation of exercise equipment; and Ofer Forest Rest Area for hikers, bikers and equestrians, with benches, picnic tables and a playground for children.We can all be Foresters
Forester for a Day is a new program that was created as a result of the Carmel fire by the KKL JNF Tourism Department. The program offers tour groups from anywhere in the world the unique opportunity to be foresters for a day, to work alongside KKL JNF foresters and contribute towards forest fire prevention, to learn about the natural surroundings and to really connect with the landscape of Israel.
The Foresters for a Day perform a variety of tasks that are essential for maintaining the forest; pruning and sawing off branches, blazing trails, removal of cuttings and developing recreation areas. At the end of the day, each participant gets a forester certificate as a token of appreciation for his or her contribution. In view of the program's success, two more program centers are expected to open in Southern and Central Israel.
Zeev Kedem, KKL-JNF Fundraising Director, emphasized that KKL-JNF's message through the Forester for a Day program is, “Come and be part of the action and the experience. Lend us a hand and work with us so that we won’t have another fire here.”
Orit Buchni, a tourism professional from Tel Aviv who took part in a showcase event that presented the program, said afterwards that “it was a great way to connect, to contribute and to be involved in meaningful ecological action.”
One year after the dreadful disaster on the Carmel, and notwithstanding the tragic loss of life and major damage to nature, there are also some sparks of light—the solidarity of people in times of crisis, the additional proof that friends of KKL JNF throughout the world really care, the natural regeneration of nature, and the growth of a young and diverse forest to be enjoyed by future generations for many years to come.
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