(photo credit: KKL-JNF)
The heavy heat dominating most parts of Israel on Friday, August 6th was also the cause of many fires around the country. Some were the result of the extreme weather conditions, and others resulted from hikers’ negligence – small fires that developed into serious blazes because of the high temperatures.
In the north – firefighting teams from Kiryat Shmonah, the Upper Galilee and KKL-JNF together with Nature and National Parks Authority staffers and willing volunteers, backed up with fire fighting planes, battled to put out the conflagration in the area of the Banias Reserve. Obviously, all visitors were evacuated from the site, and by the early evening the fire fighters succeeded in mastering the blaze. However, this was the third major fire in the area within one week, leading to the suspicion that it was the work of arsonists. Some 300 dunams (75 acres) of natural woodland were destroyed.
Close to the communities of Yarka in the Western Galilee and Sakhnin, brush fires required the attention of four teams of firefighters, assisted by two planes and KKL-JNF crews, until the fires were extinguished and prevented from spreading to the houses.
Jerusalem – Only two weeks after the enormous fire that destroyed 1,000 dunams (250 acres) of the Aminadav Forest, causing tremendous damage to the environment and to property, fire returned to the area once again. Last Friday, at noon, flames started leaping upward - on a day of heavy dry heat, known in Israel as a sharav. It took 13 teams of fire fighters to control the blaze close to Moshav Ora, on the western outskirts of Jerusalem, and they battled the flames with the sun beating down unbearably.
The Amatzia Forest – many teams from the Israel Police, fire fighting crews and KKL-JNF fought to put out the fire that broke out in the Amatzia Forest, near Kiryat Gat. The personnel on the ground were assisted by a helicopter, until the fire was eventually brought under control. A police investigation is now underway to discover if this was a case of arson.
Consequent to the large wave of fires, KKL-JNF has been calling on the public in Israel who so much enjoy excursions in its forests, parks and other sites around the country, to pay particular attention to the fire safety rules, to be scrupulous about putting out any sources of fire before leaving their chosen rest spot, and to alarm the fire fighting forces as soon as a fire is spotted, in order to prevent the fire from spreading further.
The dangerous, exhausting work of the KKL-JNF’s forest rangers in extinguishing fires can be seen from what was said by one of them, Yossi Sherwani, in an interview in the newspaper “Ma’ariv”. Speaking about the large fire that raged in the Haruvit Forest at the end of June, he reported, “... the flames reached a height of 20 to 30 meters. It felt almost like being on the high seas. The sound of the fire was sort of like waves at sea. The fire formed a roof over my head, with the flames jumping from tree top to tree top. It looked like a dragon does in the movies... I put out the fire in one corner and then it broke out behind me... for the first time in my life I felt despair as well as fear. Fear of the fire. Despair from my helplessness. In fact, you feel as though you’re at war, in a battle... I called my people on the wireless and I called them on the loud-hailer and they didn’t answer. The fire was already a clear threat to me personally, but there’s still no sound from them. And I say to myself that for sure, everything’s lost. I shout to one of the firefighters, “Aharon, Aharon, answer me already! Aharon!” And I also shout to him on the walkie-talkie, but Aharon doesn’t respond. Because at that very moment Aharon is busy with how to save the four firefighters under his command.”
Aharon tells how it was at his end: “The heat was 200 degrees [Celsius = approx. 400 degrees Fahrenheit) within the circle of 360 trees. At that temperature trees combust. The flames are 40 meters high and they, my firefighters, are looking at me. They’re waiting for me to come up with a solution... I look for a spot that’s already burnt, I pour water around, we put on our masks, just waited for death. And suddenly the wind changed direction, and so we were saved from the ring of fire. Miracles still do happen. When our colleagues saw us emerging from the forest, they couldn’t believe it was us. They simply burst in tears.”
Data collected by KKL-JNF for this year, up to July 26, 2010, show that
up to July there were 1,000 fire incidents. And in those incidents,
some 22,000 dunams (5,500 acres) of natural and planted woodland,
holding approximately 800,000 trees, went up in flames. This compares
with only 900 fire incidents in last year’s whole April-October usual
“fire season”, when 10,000 dunams were destroyed.
It will take many long years of hard restoration work to re-establish
the forests, and will require a great deal of resources. KKL-JNF, in
cooperation with KKL-JNF’s offices and friends around the world, has
already started restoration operations in the burnt forests
side-by-side with fundraising campaigns to purchase firefighting
equipment, fire engines, flame retardant materials, for the hiring of
airplanes to help to extinguish fires from the air, as well as personal
safety equipment for KKL-JNF foresters to use when putting out fires
and for dealing with the burnt areas – pruning, cleaning and preparing
to plant anew.
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