Last week’s fires were about 80 percent as bad with a similar problem: Pine forests might now expand at the expense of natural woodlands.
Zafrir Rinat Nov 27, 2016

Israel’s five days of fires have burned more than 20,000 dunams (5,000 acres) of forest, brushland and other open space, a similar scope as the record 2010 Carmel fire, the Jewish National Fund and the Israel Nature and Parks Authority said Saturday.

In the 2010 fire that racked Haifa’s forest, about 25,000 dunams were damaged. This year more than half the damage was done to forests.

Hardest hit last week were the Judean Hills between Route 1 and the separation barrier to the north. Also, homes were destroyed around the country, notably in Haifa and Zichron Yaakov 35 kilometers (22 miles) south along the coast.

In the past three days in the Judean Hills, the greatest damage was done in an area bounded by Ma’aleh Hahamisha in the Jerusalem corridor to the east, Mevo Horon to the north and Sha’ar Hagai to the west. Badly hit was the communal settlement of Nataf.

“Important areas of natural woodlands along streams and in brushlands that are the largest and most important in the Judean Hills were burned,” said Uri Naveh, the head of the parks authority’s central district.

According to Gidi Bashan, the Jewish National Fund’s community and forest coordinator for the Jerusalem area, “In the area of the ridges north of Sha’ar Hagai, forests of all kinds were damaged including pine forests and natural woodlands. This includes an area that burned in 1995 in the major fire at Sha’ar Hagai and that had been restored.”

Nature and parks officials expressed particular concern about the damage to the woodlands and brushlands at the region’s Kfira nature reserve, and about the pine seeds spread by the fire that will ultimately grow into mature trees.

The aftermath of previous fires in the Jerusalem and Carmel regions showed how fires encourage the spread of pine forests at the expense of natural woodlands.

“We removed pine seeds like these after previous fires, and now we’ll have to repeat what we did,” Naveh said.

“In woodlands, the fires spread much more slowly and with much lower intensity,” he said, adding that last week’s fires burned about 80 percent of the national parks and nature reserves in the triangle bounded by Ma’aleh Hahamisha, Mevo Horon and Sha’ar Hagai.

In the Judean Hills in recent years, efforts had been made to create buffer zones near populated areas by cutting down trees so that livestock could graze.

“Near Mevo Horon cows have grazed, which thinned the vegetation to a great extent and delayed the spread of the fire,” Naveh said.

This buffer zone seems to have protected part of the community, but there were also places where it failed to slow the flames.

“We have to think about what to do with communities right in the middle of woodlands and forest,” Bashan said. “The buffer zones that we create are good for ordinary fires but not for fires such as these with strong easterly winds.”

In the north, about 5,000 dunams of natural open areas were damaged, the parks authority said, but these areas were not inside nature reserves.

The Jewish National Fund estimates that about 4,500 dunams of forest were damaged outside the Judean Hills region, a third of which were in the forests at Menashe, Hazorea, Mishmar Ha’emek, Hashomron and Umm al-Fahm.

Another 700 dunams suffered damage near Neveh Shalom and the Harel Forest at the western end of the Jerusalem corridor.
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