12/05/2010 03:02

The 50,000 dunams that have been consumed by flames represent just under half of the 115,000 dunam Carmel forest reserve.

Officials said Saturday that it could take dozens of years for all of the area destroyed by the fire to be rehabilitated.

The 50,000 dunams that have been consumed by flames represent just under half of the 115,000 dunam Carmel forest reserve, which is managed by the Nature and Parks Authority (NPA) and also includes Jewish National Fund/Keren Kayemet L’Israel (JNF/KKL) land.

JNF chair Efi Stenzler said there were 200 JNF firefighters, who had received special training, as well as 12 fire trucks and assorted other equipment contributing to the firefighting efforts.

“After the Second Lebanon War, when we came under fire from Katyushas which started fires, we decided to train our own small force. With the help of donations from around the world, we bought the equipment.”

The main fire fighting force in Israel is the Israel Fire Department, he said, but the JNF firefighters are doing their part. They have been fighting the blazes around Usfiya, Daliat al-Carmel and Ein Hud since Thursday.

“We will go tree by tree to make sure they are not still burning. After the flames are put out, our foresters will go tree by tree again to see what can be saved and what has to be replanted. We will replant oak trees, but also almond and pomegranate trees so that people can have shade but also see fruit,” Stenzler said. Part of the reserve is made up of natural groves and part of hand-planted trees.

For the JNF, fighting fires is nothing new.

“This year alone, we fought 1,260 fires on 21,000 dunams. It was just the dry conditions and the winds that caused this fire to be so massive,” Stenzler told The Jerusalem Post.

“I’d like to remind all those who set fires either purposely or negligently [that] it takes dozens of years for trees to grow and only a minute to burn,” he noted.

He said that, while it was still too early to tell exactly how long it would take for the trees and greenery to grow back, the time required would certainly be substantial.

“It could take dozens of years, but we know how to do it. We have some of the best experts in the world whose specialty is rehabilitating forests after fires. The areas that burned during the Second Lebanon War [five years ago] are green again,” Stenzler declared.

A wildlife sanctuary that houses the largest breeding group of raptors in the world narrowly avoided the flames as over 100 NPA rangers and personnel fought off the blaze with the help of one of the fire-fighting airplanes from Greece. The raptors were evacuated on Thursday while the other inhabitants of the sanctuary, a herd of deer, have been put in a fireproof enclosure, with NPA personnel barring the flames’ path.

The NPA doesn’t have firefighters per se. They received two old fire trucks from the Haifa Union of Cities a year and a half ago as a donation in the wake of the Second Lebanon War, NPA spokesman Omri Gal told the Post on Saturday night.

“After the Second Lebanon War, when we realized no one was focusing on fires in open areas, we arranged to get the fire trucks.

We also have 15 tankers which hook up to the back of a 4×4.

“When it became clear on Thursday that this was going to be a serious fire, the NPA sent out a Green Flame general call asking anyone and everyone to come fight the blaze,” said Gal, who stood side by side with his fellow rangers unsuccessfully trying to quell the blaze on Saturday. One hundred and twenty answered the call – nearly the entire staff of the NPA.

“The local rangers have been guiding a lot of the firefighting teams to the hotspots, since firefighters from Herzliya, say, don’t know their way around the Carmel,” he said.

Gal said it was very hard and upsetting work.

“There’s a lot of frustration putting out a fire in an area that the rest of the year you are trying to conserve and seeing it all burnt.

There’s not a single tree left untouched,” he lamented. Gal added that it was also depressing because they hadn’t managed to contain the flames, even though they did prevent the wildlife sanctuary from being consumed.

JNF firefighters, meanwhile, led a successful concerted effort to protect the Yearot HaCarmel Spa from being overtaken by the blaze on Saturday. They also took part in the efforts along the line between Nir Etzion and Daliat al-Carmel.

The Environmental Protection Ministry urged those in the general vicinity of the flames who did not need to be evacuated to nevertheless stay indoors with the windows shut and an air conditioning system (not a window unit) running.

A ministry spokesman said there was no danger of hazardous materials being stored in the path of the flames at the moment.

Meanwhile, emergency fundraising campaigns have already been launched. JNF, which is also the fundraising arm of Friends of Israeli Firefighers in the US, said it was aiming to raise $10 million and $500,000 of donated funds were already making their way to Israel. Similarly, United Israel Appeal/Keren Hayesod sent out an emergency call to all of its branches on Thursday. A delegation from the former Soviet Union will be making a solidarity visit on Sunday to show support and to start raising funds for rehabilitating the area.