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JNF Wire: Lessons Learned form the Devastating Carmel Fire Help in 2015

August 21, 2015
Adam H. Brill, Director of Communications
212-879-9305 x222
JNF Plays Major Role in Extinguishing Blazes
By: Darryl Egnal
     Fire in Beit Shemesh 2015.jpg 

The damage is clearly visible following recent forest fires near Beit Shemesh.

The fashionable color, burnt orange, takes on new meaning when you walk through a forest devastated by fire. When typically rich green pine trees have turned orange, it’s not because fall has arrived; rather, it’s because these magnificent, tall trees have died from being ravaged by heat so intense that they could not survive wind-fueled unnatural fires that reached the canopies of the surrounding trees in the forest.

This scene could describe the disastrous Mount Carmel fire, which raged for four days in December 2010 – an uncontrollable forest fire that claimed 44 lives, forced more than 17,000 to be evacuated from their homes, killed countless animals and creatures, and ultimately destroyed 40,000 dunams (9,900 acres) of forest. The end result was considerable property and environmental damage. 

In addition to all the devastation, the Carmel forest fire showed how unprepared Israel was for a disaster of such proportions.

From the lessons learned after the Carmel fire incident, Israel was far better prepared during the recent forest fires in the Eshta’ol and Tzor’a forests near Beit Shemesh. Although these fires caused considerable damage, the fire was brought under control within seven to eight hours after its start.   

According to Gilad Masty, Jewish National Fund’s (JNF) regional head in the Eshta’ol area, the fires in Carmel, Eshta’ol and Tzor’a were not natural fires. 

Fire in Beit Shemesh 2015 pic 2.jpg“A natural fire burns low and spreads along the ground. It is nature’s way of regenerating a forest,” Masty said (pictured left). “But man-made fires, whether started by accident or deliberately, often burn hotter and higher and reach the canopies of the trees. These are the fires that are impossible to fight with fire trucks and ground forces. You have to have enough airplanes to help from the sky.” 

Describing how Israel and its government have learned from the devastating Carmel fires, Matsy said, “Once the Carmel fire was under control and the government had time to reflect, solutions were found. The government changed the management of the fire stations and firefighters in Israel.” Matsy added that as a result, Israel bought 14 aircraft specially designed to fight fires and will operate under the control of the Air Force.   

The Israeli government wasn’t alone in its efforts. JNF also decided to take matters into its own hands and took steps to prepare for future possible outbreaks. 

According to Masty, “At JNF, we started to do more in the forests to prevent fires,” such as clearing away plants and vegetation and preparing fire lines (firebreaks) around nearby villages. 

JNF also purchased nine new Unimog fire trucks unique to the forest, as well as one conventional fire apparatus. Masty said JNF constantly refreshes its fleet of fire trucks, not solely due to the Carmel fire – it is standard procedure to keep up-to-date – but also because JNF learned a valuable lesson from that fire. The new firetrucks have been specially designed and custom-made to be more suited for combating forest fires. 

JNF’s clearing and clean-up of the forests is important due to the nature of the Eshta’ol and Tzor’a fires’ outbreak. Road 44 is the border between the two forests. On the one side is Eshta’ol and on the other is Tzor’a. While the fire originated in Eshta’ol, it ‘jumped’ over the road, and started the fire in Tzor’a

These changes and additions to the firefighting structure in Israel allowed for the Eshta’ol and Tzor’a fires to be controlled quicker and far more successfully. Together with teamwork, nine JNF fire trucks, and more than 100 JNF workers, the Eshta’ol and Tzor’a fires were largely extinguished by nightfall. Furthermore, as Masty explained, JNF firefighters continued to standby on alert for extra precaution to ensure that no small fires existed. 

Although there was an enormous amount of destruction it was limited only to 2,000 dunams (200 ha; 494 acres) but, sadly, many animals living in the forest perished. Fortunately, no residents had to be evacuated nor were any lives lost. 
Following the fire, Itamar Dror, Eshta’ol’s forest ranger, expressed his gratitude for the assistance, and also thanked “all the foresters and firefighters from JNF who have worked so hard and so diligently over the past few weeks. It was more than a job for them, more than shlichut (service); it was a moral obligation.”

Now JNF is focused on how to regenerate the forest. A special committee has been formed with the head of the Forestry Department in KKL-JNF, which includes regional representatives and forest engineers. Together, they are monitoring the forest to measure the scope of the damage, to see where the growth will occur naturally, and where they will have to replant.

“Regenerating the forest will take about 20 years in total, but we hope that tourists and Israelis will visit the JNF’s tree planting center in the area to plant saplings and help us restore these much needed and historic forests,” Masty concluded.

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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


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