Rebuilding, replanting

It is too early for KKL-JNF to start planning how to regenerate the Jerusalem Forest after last fire. Now focus is on prevention.

It is too early for KKL-JNF to start planning how to regenerate the Jerusalem Forest after last week’s fire (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
It is too early for KKL-JNF to start planning how to regenerate the Jerusalem Forest after last week’s fire
Last week, a massive fire tore through the Jerusalem Forest, with residents forced to evacuate more than 200 homes in the normally pastoral Ein Kerem and Kiryat Hayovel neighborhoods.
Yad Vashem was also evacuated, and five homes were destroyed. Some 38 acres of the 500-acre forest was destroyed.
Police said they believe negligence may have been the cause of the fire. “We know there was a group of children that had set up some type of barbecue; there’s a possibility that it went out of control,” said Israel Police spokesman Mickey Rosenfeld.
With rainless summers and a warm, dry climate, Israel is highly susceptible to forest fires. Between 900 and 1,000 fires occur in Israel each fire season, which runs from May to October.
“The most common causes of fires are carelessness and arson,” said Omri Benhanan, media adviser for Keren Kayemeth LeIsrael-Jewish National Fund, adding that fire development depends on air humidity, and vegetation type and density.
The Jerusalem Forest – which today comprises only a fraction of its original size – is a green lung for the surrounding community, helping prevent noise and pollution throughout the capital. When forest fires such as this one occur, noted Benhanan, the community suffers.
Made up of pine and cypress trees as well as other Mediterranean varieties such as carob, olive and fig trees, it is home to gazelles and songbirds.
Studies have shown that certain types of trees and shrubs are less flammable than others, according to the KKL-JNF website. Planting trees with low flammability rates can slow the consumption rate and reduce the probability of fire ignition.
In Israel, the athel tamarisk or saltcedar tree is the best to plant in order to prevent fires from spreading; there are also three varieties of shrubs with low flammability rates, according to the website. Indeed, the KKL-JNF has started using a model for planting trees that uses these trees and shrubs as a barrier in forests.
Forests can be classified as young or mature forests. A young forest refers to one planted in the last six years, and this type of forest is most vulnerable to fires, according to the KKL-JNF; it must be isolated to prevent fires.
In mature forests additional steps must be taken, such as removing dead trees and thinning out the forest.
Benhanan said that in terms of strength, there is no difference between a fire caused by arson or carelessness and one starting naturally. However, usually those caused by negligence or starting naturally only have one focal point where the fire starts, whereas arson is usually set in multiple locations, which allows the fire to spread faster.
After a fire occurs, he said, they try not to carry out any forest management for at least a year. “The idea behind this policy is to see how the area has rehabilitated itself.”
In particular, they have discovered that evergreen trees can regenerate themselves.
Benhanan said intervention is sometimes required for the purpose of safety, if trees have fallen or the area is a popular spot for tourism and recreation. When forests cannot regenerate themselves, new trees are planted the following winter.
After a fire, organizations such as Jerusalem Volunteers for the Environment (JiVE) bring in volunteers – mostly school groups from around the world – to assist in forest clean-up such as clearing the trails and rebuilding, when the KKLJNF deems it is appropriate.
Volunteer Shaul Judelman said they are currently waiting to see what the KKL-JNF decides to do; this often takes a little while.
With fire season set to last for another four months, KKL-JNF, JiVE and other organizations are taking actions to mitigate the risks ahead.
“It’s a high-risk time of year until the rains come,” Judelman said. “It happens every year.”