Coming Full Circle After the Carmel Forest Fire
By: Leiba Chaya David
The winter of 2010 was one of Israel’s warmest and driest on record. The fire that began on December 2 effortlessly spread throughout the brittle Carmel forest and raged for four days and nights. Referred to as the “Carmel Disaster,” the fire claimed 44 lives, forced the evacuation of 17,000 people, and decimated 8,650 acres of land. Jewish National Fund (JNF) estimated that over 1.5 million trees burned in the blaze.
A 2012 disaster report by Israel’s State Comptroller pointed out the Israel Fire and Rescue Services’ inadequate emergency preparedness. Chief among the necessary reforms was the addition of more local fire stations.
Shortly after the report’s release, Fire Commissioner Shahar Ayalon received an unexpected phone call from the United States. On the line was Ron Kriss, President of JNF Miami-Dade. Like many Jews abroad, Kriss was concerned about the fate of the Carmel region. “Please, tell me how we can help,” he said.
Ayalon described a fire station planned for the Druze village of Usifya, located near an area severely impacted by the fire. Though the station was approved, they lacked the funds to proceed with building. "It costs over a million dollars," said Ayalon. “We only have half.”
“Let me see what I can do,” replied Kriss.
A few days later, Kriss called to report that JNF had raised the remaining $550,000. The new station’s cornerstone was laid in December 2012. Last week, hundreds gathered to inaugurate the Usifya station.
Overlooking the gradually recovering Carmel slopes, the building sits strategically on the road between Usifya and Daliyat Al-Carmel. The Usifya station will serve an area currently under the jurisdiction of Haifa’s central fire station. The Haifa station, located 20 minutes away, is responsible for 11 local authorities spread over 155 square miles – more than 600,000 residents. This distance presented a serious issue for firefighters during the Carmel fire.
“The biggest problem we faced on the Carmel,” explained one Coastal District firefighter “was the time it took to reach the hotspots from outlying fire stations. The strategic location of the Usifya station cuts response time in half. From the Haifa station to Daliyat Al-Carmel once took 20 minutes; now we can get there in five. This translates into lives saved.”
For many, the station represents a “closing of circles” since the fire. The Usifya station will not only save lives, it will also serve as an educational center for close to 20,000 residents in the surrounding Druze villages. The center will promote fire safety and train youth volunteers, including a new group of Friends of Israel Firefeighters’ Volunteer Fire Scouts program.
Ten firefighters will staff the station, which houses both a first response engine and a forest fire engine capable of maneuvering difficult terrain and equipped to combat fires in open spaces. The modern building also houses a workout room, kitchen, media center, and sleeping quarters.
At the inauguration ceremony, Fire Commissioner Shahar Ayalon addressed a diverse crowd that included the Minister of Public Security, the Fire Commissioner, Fire Service officers, Druze dignitaries, local politicians, Knesset members, youth volunteers, Jewish National Fund representatives, bereaved families of fire victims, and a delegation of North American lay leaders from Jewish National Fund-Makor. He spoke warmly of the immediate and selfless generosity of the North American Jewish community, and thanked Ron Kriss for spearheading the initiative. Bob Benedon, a Jewish National Fund-Makor delegate from New Jersey, thanked the guests for the opportunity to help Northern Israel to grow and flourish.
“Jewish National Fund is committed to ensuring the safety of the people of Israel,” said Benedon, “through our support of Israel’s firefighters. We have helped purchase nearly 150 fire trucks, life-saving equipment, and supported the building of several fire stations like this one. We take pride in being able to help make your jobs and lives a little safer and easier.”
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JEWISH NATIONAL FUND (JNF) began in 1901 as a dream and vision to reestablish a homeland in Israel for Jewish people everywhere. Jews the world over collected coins in iconic JNF Blue Boxes, purchasing land and planting trees until ultimately, their dream of a Jewish homeland was a reality. JNF gives all generations of Jews a unique voice in building a prosperous future for the land of Israel and its people.
JNF embodies both heart and action; our work is varied in scope but singular in benefit. We strive to bring an enhanced quality of life to all of Israel’s residents, and translate these advancements to the world beyond. JNF is greening the desert with millions of trees, building thousands of parks, creating new communities and cities for generations of Israelis to call home, bolstering Israel’s water supply, helping develop innovative arid-agriculture techniques, and educating both young and old about the founding and importance of Israel and Zionism.
JNF is a registered 501(c)(3) organization and United Nations NGO, which continuously earns top ratings from charity overseers.
For more information on JNF, call 888-JNF-0099 or visit www.jnf.org.