Israel battles forest fires

July 6, 2010 Agencies
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Israel is fighting forest fires which have destroyed more than 300,000 trees…and may well be using Aussie know-how to win the battle.

Battling the fires in Israel

Expert Ewan Waller who currently works with the Victorian Department of Sustainability and Environment visited Israel three years ago where he had discussions with the Israeli forest fires experts. He told J-Wire: “During my visit in Israel we talked fire dealing mainly with fuel loads, that’s what fire feeds off and suppression [firefighting techniques]. It was extremely interesting and mutually beneficial.”

Hundreds of KKL-JNF workers struggled with dozens of fires raging in Israel this last week. Not since the Second Lebanon War, has Israel experienced so many fires in one day. The largest of the blazes took place in the Beit Shemesh region in Israel’s central region, where the IDF also participated in fighting the fires as well as cordoning the area off. The fires consumed more than 750 acres of forests and open spaces and 300,000 trees went up in flames.

JNF’s Australian Chief Executive Rob Schneider told J-Wire: “We will earmark part of our Rosh Hashana Blue Box appeal towards assisting KKL rehabilitate these areas and to replant the lost trees.”

Two large-scale fires erupted around 14:30 on Tuesday 29 June at Moshav Tirosh near Beit Shemesh in the Lachish Region. These two blazes eventually merged into a single large conflagration. Dozens of KKL-JNF workers rushed to the scene with seven firefighting vehicles and, together with several firefighting planes, made efforts to contain the blaze. KKL-JNF foresters and firefighting forces remained at the site throughout the night. People in nearby communities were evacuated from their homes and local roads were closed for a few hours. Three fire fighters had to be evacuated to receive treatment for smoke inhalation.

The Israel Police and Fire Fighting Services suspect that the huge Beit Shemesh fire was caused by arson, based on evidence that the fire erupted at several points simultaneously. The severe heat wave prevailing in Israel on Tuesday served to further intensify the fires and expand the total area affected.

Fires were also raging elsewhere in the country. At Rosh Ha’ayin, a fire was already blazing in the early hours of the morning at eight different spots. Here too, arson is suspected. Dozens of KKL-JNF workers and firefighting vehicles, together with Israel’s Firefighting Services, fought the fire until the late hours of the evening. Besides the Beit Shemesh blaze, there were three additional medium-sized fires at Tzur Hadassah and Zahuh in the Central Region, near Jerusalem.

Large scale fires also erupted in the north at several locations. Fires broke out in Kabul in the Western Galilee and at Mt. Kamon in the Lower Galilee near Carmi’el. Extinguishing these fires required seven firefighting teams in addition to KKL-JNF foresters and firefighting aerial support.

In addition, fires blazed at Tzivon in the Galilee and at Mei Ami near Um-El-Fahem.
A brush fire broke out at Berko Park in Tiberias as well as a fire in an olive grove at Sde Trumut in the Beit She’an Valley. Due to the fires, Highway 90 was closed to all traffic for an hour. Six firefighting crews worked to control a fire at the Carmel Park near the Muhrakah.

In view of the numerous acts of arson and fires, KKL-JNF World Chairman Efi Stenzler said that he is considering installing cameras in KKL-JNF forests. “KKL-JNF will rehabilitate the burnt forests taking advantage of the lessons learnt and the extensive knowhow we gained following the extensive forest fires that took place during the Second Lebanon War. Seeing a green forest reduced to ashes is a terrible sight, as I saw for myself yesterday when I visited the site of the fires to encourage and lend support to the KKL-JNF workers battling the fires”.

In order to fight fires, KKL-JNF maintains a fire fighting structure that is comprised of forest watchtowers, firefighting vehicles, communication systems and fire alert teams. KKL-JNF’s modern firefighting vehicles can traverse tough terrains and thick forests. These were purchased with the support of friends of KKL-JNF worldwide.

KKL-JNF invests more than $5,000,000 annually in fighting fires in Israel’s forests and open spaces. This sum includes maintenance and operation of KKL-JNF’s firefighting services which includes 22 firefighting vehicles, dozens of fire fighters on duty 24 hours a day and 30 fire watchtowers in forests throughout the country that are manned around the clock. KKL-JNF also operates a forest fire risk forecast service as well as participating in the management of the aerial firefighting fund and forest fires investigations, along with the implementation of conclusions arrived at from past experience.

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