Israel — Dryer weather in recent years has increased the number of forest fires in Israel. Each year, an average of 1,000 fires occur in Jewish National Fund forests throughout the country, damaging about 9,000 acres of land. In Israel, there are 400,560 acres of forest, making up just over 7% of its total area.
When such a fire on Mt. Carmel in 2010 led to the deaths of a number of Israeli police officers forty four people in total were killed on a bus while en route to the scene to help with safety in the area, the Israeli government decided to do something about the problem. It established the National Fire Authority and invested in developing new fire fighting technologies.
Israels Ministry of Public Securitys research department, together with developers from the field of meteorology and forest fire behavior, developed an operational technology for predicting the spread of fires called Matash.
Using theoretical models developed by the US National Center for Atmospheric research, the American Research Institution and the US military, the Matash system is divided into two components. There is a data system which collects meteorological data, such as temperature, relative humidity, precipitation and wind direction and speed. It also collects infrastructure data, such as topographical conditions, a map of flammable materials, and the moisture level of vegetation. Then there is a model which depicts how the fire will spread. Matash operates on a combination of the data of flammable materials, topography, and wind direction and speed.
Based at Israels Fire and Rescue Control Center in Reshon Leziyon, the system features a two dimensional map, a three dimensional model, maps of potential fires and high risk areas and weather forecasts for the upcoming three day period in a specific region. Matash takes only thirty minutes to predict the fires behavior over the upcoming six hour period and only ten minutes for the upcoming hour.
Using Google Maps technology, the system utilizes the Internet Geographic Information System and gets live feedback on the fires conditions, intensity and location. The system aids in decision making, by providing information to staff on two main parameters: the rate at which the fire is advancing (speed and direction) and the intensity of the fire at its front and sides. This information aids in determining whether or not to evacuate civilians, how to fight the fire, and what resources should be sent to the different areas of the fire.
The Matash system is used in cooperation by all of Israels rescue and environmental agencies: The Fire and Rescue Services, the Israel Police, the JNF fire service, and the Israel Nature and Parks Authority.
Matash was first tested using simulations of the 2010 Carmel fire. Such simulations can be used to train firefighters and the technicians who operate the system. It has already proven its effectiveness. Last summer Matash was used to help contain two large fires in the Jerusalem area.
The system allows fire fighting officials to decide where best to deploy their resources. This, it is hoped, will help to prevent a fire from getting out of control. As evidenced by the ongoing fires in southern California, Israel is not the only country in the world which can benefit from Matash.