Israeli fire planes to move from air force to police

Israeli fire planes to move from air force to police

07 November 2016

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Israel —   After five and a half years of operational activity in the Israeli Air Force (IAF), the Aerial Firefighting Unit is to begin operating under the country’s Aerial Police Unit.

“Closing a squadron or unit in the IAF is a sad and unusual event, so it is definitely bittersweet,” commented Lt Col Eran, former commander of the unit. “We aren’t closing the unit. We established and developed it and we are now transferring the unit in prime shape to the responsibility of those who will take it to new heights.”

Since its creation, the unit has completed 12,000 firefighting sorties over 5,800 flight hours, delivering 30 million litres of foam and fire retardant. It was set up following the Mount Carmel fire, when the area was engulfed by flames for four days in the largest forest fire Israel has ever known, stated the IAF. The firefighting efforts and international support brought about the understanding that Israel must establish a response to the operational need for an aerial firefighting force, an understanding which preceded the establishment of the unit in 2011.

“From the beginning, it was clear that the IAF, thanks to its abilities and experience in establishment of units and squadrons, would establish the unit,” said Lt Col Eran. “We always knew that when the day would come, that we would be able to offer a full response to Israel’s aerial firefighting needs, the unit would be transferred to the responsibility of the Ministry of Public Security. And the day has come.”

During the past two years, the Aerial Policing Unit has acquired new helicopters that besides policing mission will have aerial firefighting abilities. The plan is that the aerial firefighting division’s first response will be the Air Tractor planes, while the helicopters will provide support for smaller fires, said the IAF.

The Air Force noted that the unit’s transfer is accompanied by a personal story, which connects between its three leaders: Lt Col Eran, the exiting commander of the IAF’s Firefighting Unit, Chief Superintendent Tomer, commander of the Police Aerial Firefighting Unit, and Maj. (Res’) Tomer, Chim-Nir Aviation’s head firefighting pilot, all stood on the parade ground at Hazerim Air Force Base and received their flight wings together in July 1996. “Exactly 20 years later, here we all are,” said Lt Col Eran. “A trio, in green, orange and blue flight suits, that leads the aerial firefighting unit. The best kind of closure at the best time.”

Government has urged Malawi Defence Force (MDF) soldiers who are deployed to guard Viphya Plantation against destruction to be vigilant by dealing with the perpetrators accordingly.Msaka (left) walking in the plantantion

Msaka (left) walking in the plantantion

Minister of Mines, Energy and Natural Resources, Bright Msaka, made the statement Tuesday after touring the plantation, especially areas under the jurisdiction of Total Land Care and Raiply Malawi Limited.

Incidences of fire destroying numerous hectares of trees every year have been a never-ending song for the Viphya Plantation for over a decade now. The plantation is shared by two districts of Mzimba andNkhata Bay.

However, the issue has raged on in spite of efforts by government and its stakeholders to plant trees and guard them against destruction. Reports have indicated that more often, the fires that destroy the plantation are deliberately set rather than accidental.

The minister said government is aware that some disgruntled workers and individuals whose licences were cancelled are the ones setting fires in the plantation.

“People need to know that this is a national asset, so if the department of forestry has denied somebody a licence for the reasons best known by the department, they are supposed to understand instead of setting fires,” he said.

To mitigate the challenge, Msaka said government deployed MDF soldiers in protected forests across the country as a way of scaring people from destroying the plantations.

In spite of the effort, some people are still setting parts of the Viphya Forest on fire, regardless of the size of trees.

“We have directed the Malawi Defence Force solders to deal with anyone setting bush fires and operating in the forest without licences and that the law will take its course [against them],” he warned.

However, Msaka commended Raiply Malawi Limited and Total Land Care for utilizing the forest sustainably and adding value to the trees from the forest.

“In the past, we have been cutting trees or sawing and selling them abroad at a very cheap price. We behaved like a prodigal son who squandered all what his father gave him.

“We need to be very careful and be proud of what we inherited so that we can benefit from it and pass on those benefits to the next generation,” advised the minister.

Earlier, Chief Executive Officer of Raiply Malawi Limited, Thomas Oomen, cited bush fires and encroachment as major challenges facing his company.

“This year alone, we have lost about 526 hectares [of trees] to bush fires, unfortunately, most of  these trees are below 15 years old but they are supposed to be harvested at the age of 25. This is dooming our future,” said Oomen.

Chikangawa Forest consists of seven plantations comprising 53,000 hectares.

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