May 2019 Fires: Thousands of Acres of Forests Burnt in Central Israel

Sunday, June 02, 2019

KKL-JNF foresters assess the damage of the May 2019 fires to forests

About 550 acres went up in flames in Ben Shemen Forest - approximately 15% of the forest, and about 250 acres burned down in the Harel and Tzora-Hanassi forests. KKL-JNF World Chairman Daniel Atar: “I am proud of KKL-JNF’s dedicated firefighters and employees.”
May 29, 2019: KKL-JNF foresters have been assessing the damage caused at the end of May in the wake of the Lag B’Omer festival and the dry heat wave. It is estimated that about 550 acres in Ben Shemen Forest (approximately 15% of the forest) were completely destroyed. About 250 acres in the Harel and Tzora-Presidents Forest went up in flames.  This was in addition to thousands of acres that burned down over the past week in other forests in central Israel - Eshtaol, Tarom, Elad and Nahshonim.
This period has been particularly challenging and intensive for KKL-JNF foresters. KKL-JNF Coastal Plain Director Gilad Mastai, together with KKL-JNF teams, fought the fires for three consecutive days.
“Last Wednesday, KKL-JNF foresters were busy dismantling and extinguishing [Lag B’Omer] bonfires in all the forested areas, particularly in the vicinity of communities bordering the forests, following the injunction published by the Israel Firefighting Authority banning fires in fields and forests”, he said. “KKL-JNF foresters worked all night and protected the forests from fires. On Thursday morning, bonfires that were lit in the city of Elad caused a fire that spread to Nachshonim Forest, and it was only after great efforts that KKL-JNF personnel, with the help of firefighters from Petah Tikvah, were able to stop the fire from spreading to Kibbutz Nahshonim.”
This, however, was not the end of the story. The severe heat wave surprised not only the Lag B’Omer bonfire revelers. There were also electricity problems that caused a large forest fire in the area of the Tzora-Hanasi and Harel forests, which caused severe damage to Kibbutz Harel. Many of its houses were destroyed.
Gilad Mastai described what happened: “KKL-JNF Central Region teams worked together with firefighters from all over Israel in the Tzora-Hanasi and Harel forests, with help from Home Front Command and special KKL-JNF fire trucks that are able to drive through forests. It was only towards evening that the fire was brought under control, and afterwards, KKL-JNF forces remained in the region for two days in order to put out small fires that broke out from time to time.”
While KKL-JNF teams were busy fighting the fire in Tzora-Hanasi Forest, another fire broke out in Ben Shemen Forest, next to Moshav Mevo Modi’im. KKL-JNF, thanks to a shepherd that works with the organization, identified the fire and immediately tried to stop it together with firefighting forces. However, most of the houses of Moshav Mevo Modi’im burned down.
Mastai said, “Extreme weather conditions caused a fire of dimensions that had never been previously seen in Ben Shemen Forest, a fire that expanded especially rapidly. The fire reached Moshav Mevo Modi’im and burnt down the village and all the forests around it. It jumped over Highway 443 to the northern section of Ben Shemen Forest. Firefighters from all over Israel were on the site, including KKL-JNF fire trucks that were brought from the north, KKL-JNF employees, security forces, firefighting airplanes and Home Command Front soldiers. With the additional help of the Nature and Parks Authority and the Green Commando, and after great efforts that continued into the night and the next day, the spread of the fire was finally contained until it was entirely extinguished. A huge amount of effort was invested in preventing the fire from spreading to the western part of Ben Shemen Forest, where KKL-JNF created a line of defense and was able to protect the forest’s popular recreation areas.”
KKL-JNF reported that the fire not only hurt plants and trees, but also animals. Birds’ nesting sites were burnt, and reptiles and small, slow animals that were not able to flee the fire were burnt to death. Some of the jackals, the hyenas and deer were able to get away, but some of them also perished.
KKL-JNF Central Region Director Haim Messing said, “The events of the past week reminded us all that self-discipline and shared responsibility is needed from all of Israel’s citizens in order to protect our open spaces and KKL-JNF forests, which we take care of all year long. Because of these fires, we were not too far from losing central Israel’s most important forests – Ben Shemen, Tzora-Hanasi and Eshtaol. KKL-JNF forces, together with the firefighters, worked about sixty consecutive hours until they achieved total control of the fires– from dealing with Lag BaOmer bonfires until the end of the Ben Shemen Forest fire. Even as we speak, KKL-JNF firefighters and teams are busy preventing underground root fires, the collapse of trees and flying sparks. We therefore request that the general public not come to the burnt areas and that they allow KKL-JNF’s professional teams to do their work.”
Said KKL-JNF World Chairman Daniel Atar: “I am proud of KKL-JNF’s dedicated firefighters and workers, who immediately identified the fire sources, and from the minute the fires broke out they were in the forest helping put out the flames, saving animals and helping people leave their homes. From Ben Shemen Forest to the Jerusalem mountains, Ikhsal, Mevo Modi’im, Beit Ezra, Yachini, Shahar, the Gaza Strip border, Be’eri and Carmia – wherever help is needed – KKL-JNF teams are the first to be on the frontlines in order to protect our forests.”
KKL-JNF estimates that part of the rehabilitation process will involve planting seedlings in accordance with the conditions of each geographic area over the course of two years. In other areas, KKL-JNF will work to rehabilitate the burnt areas by encouraging their natural rehabilitation processes, which means encouraging and caring for the pine seedlings that sprout up, thinning them when necessary, and other long-term managing activities until the forest has recovered, which takes between 15 to 20 years.