06/18/2011 21:06

Fire commission praises different groups’ cooperation in dousing the flames; cause of the fire still remains unknown.

A fire that blighted approximately 2,000 dunams (200 hectares) of open space and nature reserves – but caused no injuries – on the Golan Heights on Saturday morning was under control by about 5 p.m., the Fire and Rescue Service said.

While the cause of the fire remains unknown, the conflagration began alongside Road 888, near Moshav Had Nes and the Hexagon Pools nature reserve, from which visitors were immediately evacuated, according to Yoram Levy, spokesman for the Fire and Rescue Service.

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The land damaged included segments of nature reserve territory, confirmed Yair Elkayam, commander of the Katzrin fire brigade, though the Nature and Parks Authority said this damage was only a very small portion of the total damage.

“Because of the winds, the fire spread very quickly in many directions – to the Hexagon Pools nature reserve,” Levy told The Jerusalem Post on Saturday evening. “So the people there had to be evacuated. Slowly, slowly we had to bring more and more firefighters.”

“We don’t take chances in this condition,” said Eitan Nissim, deputy head of the Golan Region at the Nature and Parks Authority, who said that ultimately, “most of the fire was in [nearby] mine fields.”

“We tried not to let the fire go down from the fields to the reserve,” Nissim said.

Crews from the Jewish National Fund/Keren Kayemet Leyisrael, the fire Service’s Golan Heights and Galilee District, the Nature and Parks Authority, as well as local army units assisted in the firefighting effort.

Two of the new firefighting aircraft purchased following the Carmel disaster were used, Levy said.

“The army is helping us to control fires whenever they’re spreading seriously,” he added, praising the IDF’s quick involvement to alleviate the situation.

The flames began spreading around 11 a.m. and reached their worst at 2 p.m. when they neared a military base.

Though Levy was certain the dry winds worsened the fire, he did not yet know the cause of the incident.

“The fact that it started quite close to the road [could indicate that] maybe it’s hand-made, maybe someone ignited it, he said.

“We don’t have any facts to confirm for sure that this was the reason, but the distance was close to the road.”

Even though the flames did not consume significant portions of the nature reserve, Nissim said the Nature and Parks Authority is just as concerned about the damage to lizards, snakes, birds, insects and cattle feed for the area.

“We are not looking at it just as if the reserve is burning or if it’s outside of the reserves,” he explained. “It’s nature.”

The Road 888 area was not the only section of Israel affected by fires on Saturday, spurred on by the dry heat and strong winds around the country, Levy said.

“During this fire there was another one not so far away in the Galilee, at Khananya junction,” he continued.

“But the scale there was smaller. They also had to use one airplane – a third one. They were busy, the people here.”

A third fire also occurred in Ein Afek near Kiryat Bialik and Acre, which involved seven fire trucks and one aircraft, while a fourth much smaller fire occurred near Hadera, according to Levy.

“We use them quite a lot,” he said of the planes. “They are mobile so we can transfer them from one place to another.”

Having the new firefighting planes definitely increased the efficiency in putting out the fires, but Levy said he couldn’t yet calculate just how dramatic an improvement these aircraft had made.

Unlike the former civilian agricultural planes used for the same purpose, which were only capable of carrying one ton of water, these planes can carry up to three tons, he explained.

“I know that now we use [planes] much more than in the past – it’s more convenient, more handy,” Levy said.

“We just have to call the air force and immediately they arrive to the location where they are needed. In the past, sometimes it was longer.”

The aircraft did still needed to make several trips to water sources for refilling, but Levy said the new planes, combined with the cohesive nature of the firefighting, enabled the workers to extinguish the flames quickly.

“I think that it’s too early to analyze because there have only been a few times that we’ve used [the planes],” he said. “We can see more coordination between all the parties that are now dealing with fires – with the JNF, the NPA and of course with the army with bases in the area. They are willing to help more than before.”

Levy stressed the Fire Service’s appreciation of the various organization’s unified contributions to quenching the flames, which in the end hurt no people and damaged no private property.

“It’s just, unfortunately, the nature,” he said.