Five Years after the Fire, the Carmel is Green Again

Tuesday, December 01, 2015 3:30 PM

When you look at the landscapes all around and recall how the charred forest looked five years ago, it is impossible not to be amazed.

The great Carmel fire in 2010 killed 44 people and destroyed 2,500 hectares worth of forested areas with millions of trees. Five years after the disaster, KKL-JNF arranged a tour for journalists, so they could see how the color green has returned to the forest, hear about the rehabilitation projects led by KKL-JNF, observe the precautions undertaken for dealing with future wildfires, and meet the communities that live on the Carmel and the KKL-JNF representatives responsible for the forest.

Yiftah Harhol. Photo: Yoav Devir
“It’s amazing to see how the entire area has gone back to being green, especially in those areas managed by KKL-JNF,” said Yiftah Harhol, KKL-JNF Director of the Northern Region, in his opening greetings.

Dr. Omri Bonneh, KKL-JNF's chief scientist, presented the lessons learned from the huge fire and how they are being applied on the ground. He began by reviewing the wildfires that transpired on the Carmel over the last thirty years and said, “Sadly, in the past there were thousands of ancient trees that were a hundred years old and even older, but today there are only a few such ancient trees. We allow nature to renew itself, and our main function is to learn from nature and assist it wherever necessary.”

Dr. Omri Boneh. Photo: Yoav Devir
Dr. Bonneh specified some of the main steps taken by KKL-JNF in the last few years in order to protect the Carmel from future wildfires; such as creating firebreaks to prevent the flames from spreading, paving road passes to allow access to fire-fighting vehicles to the focal  points of a fire, thinning the pine trees, encouraging grazing to reduce the quantity of flammable material in the forest, developing a system for predicting fire hazards in conjunction with the Israel Meteorological Service and increasing the fire suppression facilities with the support of friends of KKL-JNF worldwide.

Fifty-five hectares of firebreaks were created on the Carmel by KKL-JNF in the wake of the fire, including firebreaks that around the residential communities that protect the homes of the residents and the people who live in them.

Klil Adar. Photo: Yoav Devir
The tour of the area took place on the Health Trail, which KKL-JNF developed in the forest for the benefit of visitors. The first stop on the tour was at the experimental site established by KKL-JNF in the aftermath of the fire, where the effect of mechanical forest thinning on the renewal of flora is being studied.

Klil Adar, Director of the KKL-JNF Northern Region Forestry Division, explained that the goal is to develop the most efficient thinning techniques and to consolidate an interface for the optimal thinning of the forest in order to prevent wildfires and to ensure the survival of the forest’s biodiversity. “Broad-leaf trees can renew themselves due to their root system, which does not sustain damage,” explained Adar. “Conifers scatter their seeds after their pinecones are heated by the fire.”

Micha Silko. Photo: Yoav Devir
A standard mixed forest in the area could include around 1,000 trees per hectare. When an Aleppo pine propagates itself after a fire, tree density can reach 100,000 per hectare. Of course, such a quantity of trees creates a severe fire hazard, and it does not allow for the survival of the biodiversity.

Later on, the guests watched pine trees being thinned by hand, which is done with clippers and shears and does not damage the natural woodland. “Being a forester is a mission, because our task is to ensure that future generations will also be able to enjoy beautiful and flourishing forests,” said Micha Silko, KKL-JNF Carmel Region Forester.

Alongside KKL-JNF’s professional foresters, many volunteers come to assist in the rehabilitation work. During the five years since the fire, 25,000 volunteers from Israel and around the world have come to the Carmel - schoolchildren, youth groups, IDF soldiers, new immigrants, missions and volunteers from all sectors of the population.

Thinning the pine trees. Photo: Yoav Devir
One of the tour participants was Michal Minsky from the Carmel Forest Spa Resort, who had been there when the huge fire erupted. She shared her grim recollections with the others of that terrible day. “Everything all around us was black, and the wailing of the wildlife reverberated in the mountains. Those scenes and sounds come back to me to this day, but we are here today, and that’s what matters.”

One of the special projects KKL-JNF undertook after the Carmel fire was to rehabilitate the ancient agricultural terraces that were discovered there after the fire. Aerial photos from the time of the British mandate reveal an extensive complex of agricultural terraces. Prior to the great fire, the dense underbrush had covered the terrain and had hidden the terraces and the beauty of the site. KKL-JNF, assisted by Friends of KKL-JNF in Switzerland, has rehabilitated and developed the site and has turned it into an attraction for visitors.

Michael Weinberger. Photo: Yoav Devir
“The terraces preserve agricultural history, provide an interesting attraction for visitors and also create a firebreak for protecting the forest and the nearby communities,” said Michael Weinberger, KKL-JNF Western Galilee Region Forester, who explained that the terraces, which cover an area of 7 hectares, were rebuilt from the original stones found strewn in the vicinity. The remains of the burnt trees were removed from the site, and fruit trees were planted -olive, carob, pomegranate, fig, tamarisk and mulberry.

The newly planted trees as well as the shoots that emerged naturally after the fire are benefiting from the protection provided by plastic sleeves and fencing, so that they will not be eaten by the herds of sheep and cattle. In the experimental area, fifty different species of olive trees have been planted for research being conducted in conjunction with the ARO Volcani Institute.

Pnina Levanon. Photo: Yoav Devir
“It’s very important for us to preserve the environment,” said Pnina Levanon, KKL-JNF Northern Region Community and Forest Coordinator, at the end of the day, “but we don’t forget that man is also part of the ecosystem, and we are investing our best efforts in connecting the local communities with the forest, so that they will take responsibility and help us preserve and cultivate it.”

When you look at the landscapes all around and recall how the charred forest looked five years ago, it is impossible not to be amazed by the power of nature and by its ability to renew itself. If we, the people, are careful not to interfere with this renewal and also to help wherever necessary, the Carmel will always stay green.

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