It is still unclear what caused the spark that ignited the fire.

By AARON REICH   JUNE 28, 2021

A fire that broke out near Mevesseret Zion. (photo credit: CARRIE HART)

A fire that broke out near Mevesseret Zion. (photo credit: CARRIE HART) The large wildfire that ignited in a forest area near Mevaseret Zion and Abu Ghosh may have been due to dead trees and poor forest management of the area, The Jerusalem Post has learned.The fire in question was sparked last month, causing nearby homes to be evacuated and Route 1 – connecting Tel Aviv to Jerusalem – to be closed. Multiple fire trucks and firefighting planes were dispatched, which finally succeeded in containing the blaze.

But according to arborist David Soucy, much of the damage could have been avoided if his warnings had been heeded.Originally from Canada, Soucy, one of the few arborists in Israel, had noticed the potential for disaster these trees caused.Speaking to the Post, he explained that he had spotted a patch of dead conifers (pine trees) in the area. Ordinarily, these trees on their own are incredibly flammable due to the excretion of pine oil, which is a component of non-mineral-based turpentine.But dead conifers are even more flammable. This is because they lack the moisture and humidity of live trees, so they catch fire more easily.“When conifer branches die, they still stay on the tree and are basically giant tinderboxes,” Soucy explained.“

They’re so flammable that even in the rain, if you need to start a fire, you can still use their branches,” he said. “They burn very fast – and [the fire] burns very hot, and it can spread very easily. And because conifers grow among other conifers, also which are flammable, it can spread even faster.”How conifers grow makes the situation even more likely to turn into a serious blaze.“The whole Jerusalem area is mostly pine and cypress trees, which are also very flammable. Everything between them is dry grass,” he said. “If a fire had spread there, the whole side of the valley could have burnt to a crisp.”

SEEING THE danger of the dead patch, Soucy alerted Keren Keyemeth LeIsrael-Jewish National Fund (KKL-JNF), the organization responsible for the forest, and included pictures and video of the trees. He also attempted to notify the Mevaseret Zion Municipality. But nothing was done about it.And, soon enough, the very fire he predicted happened.“This is a microlevel. You start a fire with a spark, then add more fuel and tinder and then huge logs. It can [grow from] a small ember to a large fire,” Soucy explained. “What happened in Mevaseret was the perfect condition for exactly that.”It is still unclear what caused the spark that ignited the fire.“Some people are saying it’s arson,” Soucy said, but “it could have been something as simple as the sun hitting a piece of glass. It’s not hard to start a fire. Even if it was arson, it wouldn’t have been nearly as bad if the dead trees were taken care of.”Now, he stressed, there needs to be more awareness of how bad this situation is, and what needs to be done to prevent it from happening again.“

People need to realize that once a tree’s dead, it’s dead and it needs to be taken care of,” he said. “[The organizations responsible] might say they don’t have the budget, but you could hire just a few people. Some businesses might even do it for free because they sell firewood.”But this goes beyond simply cutting down the branches of dead trees – since it is the branches, not the trees, that are especially flammable in the case of conifers. Rather, what is also needed is arboreal diversity.“

Most of the trees are around the same age,” he said. “If we have a mix of old and young trees, we have diversity. That way we don’t just have trees of the same age competing, which would mean someone is going to die. Bigger trees with smaller trees means the trees grow. “Not only that, but having more healthy trees boosts humidity, which boosts growth – it’s a snowball effect. Trees absorb a huge amount of CO2 and as they absorb it, they sweat, making humidity, which also makes it harder to start fires.”This is something he thinks Israel should focus on.“

We want to take a harsh environment and turn it into something beautiful that can grow,” Soucy said. “And the answer to that is trees.”KKL-JNF and the Mevaseret Zion Municipality did not respond to Post queries for comment by press time.