(photo credit: KKL)
Dr. Orr Karassin – Head of KKL- JNF Delegation to the Cancun Climate Conference
The dreadful news about the huge Carmel forest fire raging in Israel reached the members of the KKL-JNF delegation to the UN Cancun Climate Conference (COP 16) just as they were attending forums and workshops on dealing with the increase of forest fires throughout the world. Representatives of the American Center at COP16 spent an hour with the KKL-JNF delegation, using their unique Envirocast Vision Collaboration Module (EVCM) to access satellite imagery and show them live satellite photographs of the fire in the Carmel. In appreciation, the KKL-JNF delegation planted trees in their name in Israel, a gesture that the American Center representatives were very moved by. They wrote KKL-JNF that "we were very surprised to receive the official certificates of trees being planted in our names in the hills of Jerusalem. It simply took our breath away and we couldn’t get the smile off of our faces all day. We are so honored and can’t tell you enough how grateful we are to you. These certificates will hang proudly in our office so we can tell the story of how this happened. Thank you from the bottom of our hearts!"
The terrible news arriving from Israel only added to the dismal world statistics on the spreading of natural fires and their magnitude. Ziang Ziu of the US Geological Survey said that there was an overall increase in the number of fires and the size of areas destroyed by fires from 2001 to 2010 as compared to 1990 to 2000. In the present decade, the annual average is 7 to 10 billion acres of open areas destroyed by fires, an almost incomprehensible statistic.
In Russia alone, 15 million acres burned last summer in 2,500 natural fires. Along with the fires, there was an 18% increase in illness throughout the country due to the heat and severe air pollution caused by the fires. This data was added to even worse data from South America, which received little attention in the media, although four billion acres were burned in 2010 on that continent alone.
One of the main reasons for the increase in the extent of fires all over the world is global warming, which causes a combination of extreme heat conditions and extreme aridity. Along with climate change is increasing urbanization, which brings cities closer to natural areas and increases the danger to human life by fire. A good example of this was the fire that raged close to Athens three years ago, in which giant waves of fire reached the edges of the city. In many countries, as in Russia, the relocation to cities is accompanied by the abandonment of agricultural lands and the accumulation of biomass (flammable matter) in areas that were once cultivated, which greatly increases the potential for fire in those areas along with the rate of its expansion.
Not only are fires affected by global warming, they also contribute to it by emitting air pollutants such as methane, carbon monoxide and carbon dioxide. United States Forestry Service scientists are interested in using satellite data in order to evaluate the contribution of forest fire emissions towards global warming and to compare the extent and harm caused by these emissions with those from industry. Their estimate is that as a result of the partial burning that occurs in forest fires as opposed to the complete burning by industrial motors, forest fires do not contribute less than industry towards global warming.
Fires are not divinely decreed, and it is possible, by correct means of prevention and containment of fires, to prevent a great deal of fire damage. Nevertheless, coping necessitates great resources. In the USA, half of the United States Forestry Service's budget is directed to preventing and combating fires, according to Vai Min Hau of the USFS. Other countries maintain fleets of helicopters in readiness for fires and invest great financial resources in prevention and containment.
A new way of relating to this old but growing threat is under discussion. A more
sophisticated approach is developing in the world for dealing with fires, which utilizes advanced technologies. For example, satellites are being used to locate fires when they break out and for monitoring fires that have already started to spread. Also, satellites assist in forecasting the spreading of fires. Precise forecasts provide early warning for evacuation of inhabited areas and saving lives. In the USA, the NASA space satellite Modus is for the sole purpose of locating fires as they transpire, gauging and mapping the expanses that have burned, and evaluating the air pollution caused by the fire’s emissions. This helps evaluate the danger to human life, the necessity for evacuation in order to prevent harmful smoke inhalation, and monitoring greenhouse gases emitted by fires. “Models developed on the basis of satellite data allow for the evaluation of the direction and rate of the fire spreading in a relatively accurate way,” said Ziang Ziu.
“Information on developments in fire prevention and fire fighting is vital for Israel in this era of climate change,” said David Brand, Director of KKL-JNF Department of Forestry. “Global warming, which lengthens the dry seasons as well as drought and damage to trees and forests by disease, requires renewed consideration and evaluation for the future. We have a lot to learn from international experience, and we will reevaluate the means at our disposal and adopt suitable methods that are in use all over the world.”