Israel — A wildfire which broke out Friday night at 10 p.m. in the Golan Heights blazed for 12 hours until it was extinguished Saturday afternoon.
The fire destroyed 750 acres of forested land, and killed numerous wild animals in the area.
“I arrived at the area around midnight and realized that if we didn’t stop the fire immediately it would spread rapidly and become uncontrollable,” said Eldad Eitan, head of Gamla Nature Reserve, to Yediot Aharonoth Sunday.
Because the Gamla Nature Reserve has the largest eagle colony in Israel, firefighting aircrafts had the added burden of dodging eagle flocks and keeping the airways open while attempting to put out the fire.
“We weren’t afraid of hitting the eagles, because they usually fly away in these types of situations. Also the nesting season was over so there was no worry about that,” Eitan continued. “The problem was the crowdedness of the airways, which raised the chances of a collision between an aircraft and an eagle, so we had an observer telling the pilots the exact locations of the birds. Many reptiles were killed in the fire, but the eagle population was unhurt.”
According to Eitan, the fire mostly destroyed areas of natural forest, which regenerates itself. However, several dozen oak and eucalyptus trees were also burnt.
“Only recently we planted 60 oak trees as part of rehabilitating the area following the huge fire that took place in 2010,” he explained. “But winter is coming soon, so the rest of the area will be green again in four months.”
“We worked all night to confine and suppress the fire, so that in the morning, when the direction of the wind changed, the fire would not have sufficient material to burn and spread. If we had not worked all night, this fire would have destroyed 7,413 acres and not 750,” Eitan added.
Lightning strikes on Friday night also caused two other fires in the Golan.
Yair Elkayam, commander of firefighting units in the region, said that lightning near Kanaf resulted in a relatively small fire. Another fire occurred near a military base in Moshav Yonatan, with concerns that the fire would spread to the base.
“The three fires erupted at about the same time, around 10 p.m. The fire in Gamla was the toughest of the three; it was concentrated in the area of the Daliyot Stream, but did not spread to the Gamla Stream. It was extinguished after nearly 12 hours,” informed Elkayam.