Dead Sea nature reserve decimated by wildfire

IDF training exercise sparks massive wildfire at Ein Fasha Nature Reserve.

ein fasha 88 (photo credit: )
ein fasha 88
(photo credit: )
An IDF training exercise sparked a massive wildfire at the Ein Fasha Nature Reserve Tuesday morning, destroying nearly 2000 dunams of land in what the chief firefighter on the scene called "the largest wildfire of the summer." "It's by far the largest," said Amnon Amir of the Judea and Samaria Fire Department, as flames in the area were still being sprayed by airplanes overhead. "It started around four in the morning, and has been extremely difficult to put out." According to Amir, the exceedingly dry conditions in the area, which borders the northern Dead Sea, added to the difficulty, and low amounts of rainfall over the winter were to blame. But he also told The Jerusalem Post that the IDF had initially prevented his firefighters from entering the area, making it more difficult to combat the intense flames. "It's a lot of territory to cover," Amir said. "We had to call in four airplanes to assist the firefighters." Still, they were unable to stop the flames as they ate away at the thick brush and other vegetation in the nature reserve. Doron Nissim, the District Manager for the Israel Nature and National Parks Protection Authority, said he had arrived on the scene sometime after 5 a.m., and the flames were already out of control. "I left my home in Gilo and drove out here," Nissim said. "As I got closer, there was smoke everywhere. When you see a fire like that, it's frightening," he said. "To be honest, it was a little traumatic." Nissim told the Post he had been working at Ein Fasha for nearly 30 years and the sight of the reserve burning was hard to take. Still, he was well aware of the dry winter and the possibility that the summer wildfire season could be a particularly bad one. "In the last few years we've changed some of our methods and begun preparing for dry summers like this one," he said. "We've learned fire-extinguishing techniques and have run quite a few drills. But there are some fires, like this one, that you can't prepare for; they're just too large." Nissim also said that the area was full of brush and shrubbery that burn easier than trees, making it nearly impossible to stop the fire from tearing its way through the reserve. "It will take 10 years before the area completely renews itself," Nissim said. "But within six months or so, we'll already see new signs of life. This isn't a completely tragedy, because it's somewhat healthy for the vegetation to renew itself like that, but still, it's been difficult to watch it all burn." The army refused to comment further on the incident, which Army Radio reported had begun from a flash or smoke grenade. According to the Judea and Samaria fire department, there were no injuries reported, and damage was limited to the plant life in the reserve. There have been three large wildfires throughout the country since Saturday, two in the Jerusalem Hills before Tuesday's at Ein Fasha. Firefighters blame high temperatures and dry conditions as a factor in all of the fires, but at least one, on Saturday afternoon near Kibbutz Ma'aleh Hahamisha, was reportedly the result of arson.