Israel — About two weeks after firefighting forces put out the huge Carmel forest fire, the KKL-JNF Resources and Development Division went up north to learn about the damage and rehabilitation plans. Joining the tour were KKL-JNF emissaries – Dubi Bergman, England; Michael Adari, South America; Reuven Naamat, France; as well as Bernard Rebibo, vice president of KKL France, and president of KKL Nice, and Paul Aidan, a member of the board of KKL France.
Speaking to tour participants, Avi Dickstein, Resources and Development Division Executive Director, said, All of us at KKL-JNF feel identification and sorrow about the casualties and the terrible catastrophe caused to people and to the environment. Our hearts go out to the bereaved families.
Dickstein reported on the special contributions of KKL-JNF offices all over the world, which immediately began working on supporting the restoration of the Carmel forest and have been organizing many fundraising events. I would like to express my deepest appreciation to all the KKL-JNF foresters for their courage in facing the fire, to the donors and volunteers who came to Israel during the fire in order to help, and to everyone who sent letters of support and encouragement. Dickstein added that the campaign in Israel for the restoration of the Carmel continues, and the public is expressing great empathy.
In the course of the tour, we visited forests and inhabited areas where KKL-JNF staff were in charge of fighting the fire. On the way to the Carmel, one could still be impressed by its greenery, and only when ascending the winding road to Nir Etzion did the scenery start changing from green to the brown and black of the burned and charred trees. Yoel Raz, manager of the Nir Etzion guesthouse, told us about the terrifying evacuation of the guesthouse and then of the entire village. About 30 residents decided to remain at the hotel to protect the village from the spreading fire. Raz said that the KKL-JNF fire trucks were the only ones that operated in that area. The emergency force of local residents felt they were fighting for their homes, and when they succeeded in fending off the fire, they reopened the guesthouse for visitors quickly in order to get back to normal.
The tour was accompanied by KKL-JNF Northern Region personnel including Dr. Omri Bonneh, Northern Region director, David Brand, director of KKL-JNF’s Forestry Department, Michael Weinberger, regional director, Zvika Ailon, community and forest director in the north, Rami Zaritzky, supervisor of KKL-JNF firefighting forces, and Etti Azulai, Northern Region communication and public relations representative.
Restoration Plans KKL-JNF teams completed their investigation of the fire last Wednesday. Dr. Omri Bonneh described how KKL-JNF foresters controlled the fire and briefed us about Carmel restoration plans. A KKL-JNF forester for over 28 years, Dr. Bonneh is especially connected to the panoramas of the Carmel. Yoel Raz mentioned fighting for his home. The forest is our home, and we fought for it fiercely. KKL-JNF teams worked resolutely and skillfully with selflessness and great dedication. Bonneh noted that within the past year alone, KKL-JNF foresters fought around 1,700 fires, gaining a lot of experience which helped them in fighting the huge Carmel forest fire.
Dr. Bonneh also mentioned that the restoration works undertaken in the forests of the north following the Second Lebanese War will serve as a model for the restoration of the forests burned on the Carmel. Restoration in the natural woodlands as well as in the in planted forests will mainly be based on natural processes Since natural, untended renewed growth would create a jungle of pine trees, thinning will be a necessary part of restoration. Planting will be done in areas where there were young forests, according to the situation in the area, and in forests that burned several years ago and are ready for replanting.
Restoration activities will include: cutting and clearing away burnt trees; thinning conifers and planting deciduous trees to ensure proper forest development and prevention of fires; creating and improving firebreaks around residential areas, recreation areas and bypass routes; clearing away trees that are dead and standing, which would be fuel for future fires; rehabilitation and improvement of scenic trails, bicycle paths and scenic lookouts; rehabilitation and renewal of recreation areas that burned and construction of new ones for the benefit of the visiting public; replacement of life preserving equipment for KKL-JNF fire fighters; revamping fire trucks and purchasing new ones suitable for the area; coordination of volunteers and more.
KKL-JNF has received thousands of requests from people in Israel and all over the world asking to volunteer in Carmel restoration activities and the volunteer program is presently being organized by KKL-JNF’s Northern Region, as was the case after the Second Lebanese War.
Forest Fire Prevention in the Future Answering the question posed by Paul Aidan of KKL France as to how one might prevent such fires in the future, Dr. Omri Bonneh said that it is not possible to completely prevent fires like this one and others. Good firefighting equipment, firebreaks around infrastructure and in forests, creating forests that contain little flammable material – these are things that can lessen the danger of the fires but not prevent them entirely. One should remember that the fires in Israel are manmade, not naturally induced, which is why it is difficult to predict where they will start and how they will behave. Even while the Carmel fire was raging, there were increased attempts of arson throughout Israel, some of which were dealt with by KKL-JNF teams.
Additional solutions currently being considered for fire prevention and effective methods for coping with them, which would require large investment from various organizations, were presented by David Brand. One of them is the installation of thermal cameras that identify heat sources, which are mainly used for locating missile fire. These cameras would be installed in KKL-JNF lookout towers and would help locate fires as well as providing early warning, which would enable immediate response with fire trucks and firefighting forces. This kind of alertness would provide security for people in residential areas and for firefighters. Another important solution relates to forest management – continuous and stringent maintenance of forests and even consideration of encouraging grazing in firebreak areas.
At the Mount Carmel Rotterdam Grove, we experienced some of the Carmel restoration work that will soon be done by the thousands of volunteers already waiting for the work to begin. Within a short time, we piled up two heaps of cuttings that we cleared from a section of the forest for the sake of prevention of future fires. The grinds of these cuttings serve as organic material in new forests. When a sapling is planted, the planting pit is filled with about 25 cm of this material, in order to retain the water and moisture around the tree.
In the section of burned forest near the Carmel Forest Hotel, we saw charred tree trunks laying on the ground, disconnected from their life source, trees that died upright, now standing naked and black in the winter sunlight, trees that were singed by the heat of the fire, standing half brown and half green, trying to radiate some life. On a blackened tree trunk, one of the thousands of visitors to the Carmel had tied a green ribbon, which was distributed as part of the campaign to restore the Carmel. The ribbon waved in the wind and awakened hope for the real green that will one day color the revived forest.
Here, Michael Weinberger explained about the rehabilitation process planned for these trees and for the forest in general. After spring germination and growth, a comprehensive investigation will be undertaken to determine the extent of the natural renewal in the areas that were burned, and it will be decided which trees survived and can be restored and which did not survive the fire and the intense heat and have to be cut down and cleared away from the forest.
Fighting Fires from the Air Later in the day, we heard a report given by Rami Zaritzky, KKL-JNF representative to the air firefighting foundation. Rami detailed the activities of KKL-JNF teams in the course of fighting the huge fire and the methods being considered at present for future use of firefighting airplanes.
During the first few hours of the fire, Rami directed the smaller firefighting planes to the fire locations. In the intense heat of the fire, about 700 degrees, branches and pinecones were flying and falling all over the forest, creating additional fire focal points. A long fire front was created with 60 meter high flames. Firefighting planes cannot operate at night, and also because of the strong gusts, the fire continued spreading and was ultimately halted only by the special aircraft that arrived from all over the world. In the course of fighting the fire, KKL-JNF and local firefighting manpower was monitored by Israel Air Force aircraft, in order to prevent harm to ground teams from the water drops on the forested areas.
Among the solutions now being considered for firefighting from the air are water barrels (known as “Bambi buckets”), which would be attached to IDF helicopters. Compared to other aircraft, this is the more reasonable option as far as cost and implementation.
Rami Zaritzky noted the dedication of all the professional KKL-JNF teams that worked on fighting the great Carmel fire. It was thanks to their great skill in extinguishing field and forest fires that they succeeded in putting out the fires in the areas assigned to KKL-JNF.
As noted by Zvika Ailon, it is the great human spirit of KKL-JNF workers that made it possible to fight the firestorm, overcome the fire and begin the extensive restoration project.