Monday, July 24, 2006 10:14 AM
The hundreds of Katyusha rockets landing in northern Israel are causing daily fires in open ground throughout the region. We spoke this morning (July 23, 2006) with Yishai Soker, deputy director of KKL-JNF’s northern region, during a brief lull between rockets and fire fighting.
Soker said that since the Katyushas began to fall there have been dozens of fires every day, as most rockets land in open country which, in the northern region, is mainly wooded. KKL-JNF teams in the north are going out with fire trucks and working round the clock to ensure that all these fires are put out as promptly as possible. In order to relieve the constant pressure of this job, which is carried out under difficult and dangerous conditions, the northern teams have been joined by colleagues from the southern and central regions, who are providing help and reinforcements.
All the forest fires are extinguished by KKL-JNF staff with the help of the region’s eight fire trucks – five in Upper Galilee and three in Western Galilee. Two command centers have been set up, and are manned 24 hours a day by teams headed by KKL-JNF Land Development Authority Director Gershon Avni and Dr. Omri Boneh, director of KKL-JNF’s northern region.
Biria Forest, the second largest forest in Israel, has been hit by dozens of Katyushas so far, causing massive fires. So far approximately 3,000 dunam (about 750 acres) of forest have been burnt, but without KKL-JNF teams’ stubborn battle against all the fires which broke out simultaneously at a number of different sites, there can be no doubt that the entire forest would be in danger of destruction. As Yaron Levy, who is in charge of public visits to the forest, said, “All the eastern slopes of Biria Forest have gone.”
Apart from Biria Forest, KKL-JNF teams have been battling to contain fires in Meron, Naftali Hills, Hanita Forest, Bara'am Forest and even in Beit Keshet Forest, where a single Katyusha ignited a large fire.
The ground teams and the fire trucks are joined in daylight hours by an airborne patrol. KKL-JNF teams have four fire-fighting planes at their disposal, provided by the Aerial Fire-Fighting Fund, which was jointly founded by KKL-JNF, the ministry of the interior, the Israel Lands Authority and the ministry of defense.
Yishai Soker points out that, although the teams are exposed to Katyusha fire and can be found in the most dangerous areas while rockets are falling, all workers have mobilized and are working devotedly, risking their lives to defend our northern forests and their inhabitants from the fires.