07/19/2012 05:51
Fire services: Arson created need for buffer zones to protect residents.

Residents of Jerusalem’s Ramot neighborhood are furious with Fire and Rescue Services and Keren Kayemeth LeIsrael-Jewish National Fund over the destruction of large swathes of the Ramot forest, which was thinned in order to protect homes against brush fires. The Jerusalem District Court will hear their petition for an injunction to stop the tree thinning on Thursday morning.

Two months ago, Ramot residents noticed red paint on 80 percent of the trees near the Ramot Bet neighborhood, and concerned neighbors appealed to the KKL-JNF in an attempt to understand the organization’s plan for the area. Resident David Goldberg said that 60 neighbors met with organizational officials three weeks ago, who assured them that only trees within 20 meters of their homes posed a risk and would be removed, as fire can quickly spread from the forest to homes unless there is a buffer zone. But he said when the company came to cut down the trees marked for removal, trees were cut down recklessly.

“They didn’t pay attention to the markings, they were just cutting right and left, it was helter skelter,” said Goldberg, adding that trees as far away as 50 meters from homes were removed.

Fire and Rescue Services spokesman Asaf Abras said firefighters have been working for six months with the Israel Nature and Parks Authority and KKL-JNF to “mark potential areas of combustion and risk that might endanger residents in various neighborhoods.”

Pesach Davis was one of three neighbors to file the injunction petition. He pointed out that the trees do not just provide a pleasant view for the neighbors, but are also “a sound barrier and pollution barrier between us and the highway.”

Goldberg and Davis shared the concern that the recently cleared land could be the first step for further development of Ramot, since developers will not have any trees to contend with if they decide to expand.

But Abras stressed that the wave of arson in open areas around Jerusalem illustrates the “vital need for buffer zones and separation lines between homes and forests.”

Firefighters have dealt with over 1,500 fires in open areas in the past two months, including two major fires in the past three weeks that burned 10.1 hectares (25 acres) each. They have determined that arsonists were responsible for at least 70% of the fires.

In response, KKL-JNF representatives said the organization had obtained all the necessary permits required for forestry work and stressed that the complaints directed against it are “distorted and false.”

Rather than simply cutting down trees in the forest, the group is creating buffer zones by diluting the density of pine trees and removing dead ones, in order to prevent the spread of forest fires, they said.

“KKL is working under the guidance of an inter-ministerial committee under which a decision was made to establish buffer zones around settlements and roads to prevent the spread of forest fires, which are a danger to residents,” a KKL-JNF statement said. “The work in the area is done at the request of the Jerusalem municipality and in full coordination with it. In addition, KKL is meeting all the standards and permits required for executing forest work.”

The recent fires that occurred in Ein Hemed and Mevaseret Yerushalayim reached a residential development close to trees, and constructing buffer zones have therefore proven to be particularly important, the group said.

The KKL-JNF said its officials had toured the area with neighborhood representatives to show them which trees would be removed.

Those trees were planted by its workers and every tree is valuable to the organization, but the work is being performed to benefit people, it added. Staff members are present at all times during the trimming process and continue to supervise all procedures to ensure that they adhere to protocol, the group said.