(photo credit: KKL)
Yaakov Arak is a KKL-JNF forester stationed in the north who is familiar with every nook and cranny in the Carmel Forest. He spoke about the recent fire that destroyed about 5,000,000 trees, and shared his thoughts on forest care and how to work with nature to ensure the forest's safety and future.
"Some people think that the problem was with the conifer forests planted by KKL-JNF, because the pines ignite and burn quickly, which causes the fire to spread so fast that it becomes impossible to stop. The reality of the Carmel forest fire, however, is quite different. 80% of what burned down was natural woodlands, which were comprised of a wide variety of trees, including Jerusalem pines, which are indigenous to the Carmel. This might come as a surprise to some people, but it was specifically in KKL-JNF forests that we were able to contain the flames, because we thin our forests and create firebreaks and forest roads in them. This made me think. Israel is a tiny country, and the ratio of green areas per person is much smaller than in Europe, for example. Forest fires happen all over the world, it's impossible to entirely prevent them. Some environmental organizations in Israel want to leave natural areas untouched, to preserve their natural beauty, which I understand and identify with. But maybe it's preferable to sacrifice a bit of that perfect nature, and make firebreaks, as we do in KKL-JNF forests, for example, and not risk losing everything, as we did in the natural woodlands of the Carmel.
"I was the first person to see the fire and to call for help. KKL-JNF foresters are always on the alert, and that Thursday, I was especially tense because of the terrible dryness and the strong eastern winds. I called everyone I could think of, the fire department, the police, the army, everyone. It was then that I realized how important the firebreaks and fire trails we made were. Without them, we couldn't have gone where we went, and much more would have been burnt.
"We worked as hard as we possibly could. Honestly, I have to say that in the forests and open spaces, it was only the KKL-JNF people who knew what to do. The firemen know how to fight fires in populated areas, not in nature. You have to be constantly focused, aware of the danger, and make long-term and short-term decisions, and lives are dependent on how focused you are.
"We took care of this forest and tended it daily. Something occurred to me that I think helps puts the larger picture in perspective – we have a lot of tree thieves in this region. People are tight on money, so they illegally cut trees down for firewood. We try to protect every single tree, and if one is cut down, we feel a tremendous loss. And then all of a sudden everything is black – not one or two, but millions of trees were lost. It is a devastating experience. Everything you nurtured goes up in flames and all you can do is some degree of damage control."
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