Fire Update

December 6, 2010 Agencies
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The Jewish National Fund has issued an update to the fires raging in northern Israel as Australia prepares to send aid today.

On the fourth day (Sunday, December 5th, 2010) of the fight to quench the huge fire blazing in the forests of Mount Carmel, the damage toll continues to mount: so far the fire has destroyed almost 50,000 dunam (approx 12,500 acres) of planted forest, natural woodland, open spaces and built-up areas. Almost 5 million trees have been devoured by the flames!

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This morning the main sites of the fire are in the Carmel Ridge and Alon Valley areas. The Israeli Fire Service reports that fires are still burning to the east of the Carmel Forest Hotel and on Mount Shokef. Fire crews are also operating at another site to the north east of Nir Etzion, and are working to cool the environs of the Hai Bar Nature Reserve.

As we write, KKL-JNF foresters are fully deployed throughout the area, and are continuing to fight the fire with help of the organization’s twelve modern-style fire trucks, including those purchased with the help of donations from Friends of KKL-JNF throughout the world. These crews fought on throughout Friday and Saturday, under the direction of KKL-JNF World Chairman Efi Stenzler and Dr. Omri Boneh, Director of KKL-JNF’s Northern Region. Most of their efforts were focused on blocking the progress of the fire, mainly around Nir Etzion Forest, the Carmel Forest Hotel and the river gully between Nir Etzion and Daliyat al-Carmel.

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In the wake of the destruction wrought by the fire as it swept through the Carmel Forest, Efi Stenzler announced that KKL-JNF would extend its Tu BiShvat planting events this year. “The festive planting events will continue for a whole week, instead of just one day as in most years, to enable us to plant new trees in place of the millions burned over the course of the year,” he said.

The firefighters are still struggling to combat the blaze, with the help of the planes that have been dispatched to their aid, and it is already abundantly clear that it will take a long time to restore the lush green appearance of our beloved Mount Carmel. The ecological damage is enormous. Vast tracts of planted forest, natural woodland and carpets of flowers, together with thousands of birds, reptiles and mammals, have simply gone up in smoke. “It will take decades for the landscape to be rehabilitated – if indeed, rehabilitation is possible,” explains Dr. Omri Boneh. “Some of the trees burned were between fifty and a hundred years old, and that’s the time it will take for all this to be restored.”

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Stenzler adds: “Certain species of bushes and trees have simply been wiped out altogether. We shall go through the area bush by bush and tree by tree and mark which have a chance of survival, and which do not.” Some of the forests burned to the ground in this disaster were burned in the past, too, and were restored over time – and now they have been wiped out once again. In a small country like ours, where every centimeter of open ground becomes doubly precious, damage to this area of the Carmel, which was one of the most frequently visited, is of grave national significance. The toxins released into the atmosphere by the fire likewise contribute to the enormous and almost irreversible ecological damage that has been done.

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In Israel, KKL-JNF is preparing to take emergency action to rehabilitate the fire-damaged areas, and has already initiated a campaign entitled Bringing Green Back to the Carmel, which invites the public to donate in preparation for the planned restoration activities. KKL-JNF offices throughout the world are making similar preparations, and have already launched an extensive emergency campaign for the restoration of the Carmel Forests.

Reports from Israel have confirmed that two teenagers have been charged with starting the fires. They had been on a camping trip.

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