Sunday, July 23, 2006 10:14 AM
Since last night the forests in the Naftali Hills above Kiryat Shmona have been ablaze. So far approximately 2,000 dunam (about 500 acres) of woodland are estimated to have been burned.
KKL-JNF Fire-fighters are still battling the flames, and we have as yet no final estimate of the enormous damage the fire has caused. The entire staff of the northern region, together with volunteers and all possible reinforcements, have been engaged since last night in the attempt to put out this huge blaze.
An interim appraisal of the damage caused to forests and woodland by the rocket fire calculates that approximately 6,000 dunam (about 1,500 acres) have been burned in the north of the country, and approximately 250 dunam in the south (about 62.5 acres) – over half a million trees.
Although attention has been focused mainly on the north, we would do well to remember that the southern region, too, is under attack by Qassam missiles. Since January a total of about 530 missiles have been launched at the region. As a result both of this and of the fighting, which has included the use of flares and tracer bullets, local foresters have had to deal with dozens of fires, and the region’s fire-fighting teams have been working in woodland, nature preserves and open ground.
KKL-JNF’s fire-fighting teams are working in extremely dangerous circumstances and have to cope constantly with difficult terrain and problematic weather conditions. Klil Adar of Western Galilee described the firefighters’ work: “KKL-JNF teams are working constantly under the threat of Katyusha fire. When the scouts in the lookout towers locate where the missiles have fallen, the firefighting trucks and their teams rush to the site to deal with the fires that have broken out. Very often they arrive only moments after the missile has landed, while other rockets are still falling around them and most of the civilian population is under cover in protected structures. At real danger to their own lives the workers, protected by helmets and shrapnel-proof vests, deploy their hoses and attack the fire in conditions of great physical and emotional discomfort, often with heavy spraying equipment on their backs. They do this day in, day out, night after night. What motivates us is our desire to reach the blaze while it is still small and controllable.”
Dozens of people in the north have volunteered to help KKL-JNF’s fire-fighting force. Civilians from a variety of places have contacted KKL-JNF and expressed an interest in joining the teams. Tzvika Elon, head of KKL-JNF’s command center, says that the volunteers are making an important contribution and that they respond to every call, even when Katyushas are falling. Most of the volunteer teams remain in constant contact with KKL-JNF. Others, such as the volunteers from the community of Lotem, have been issued with fire-fighting equipment and make their own way to the scene of the fire.