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JNF-KKL Firefighters Battle Fierce Blazes in Northern Israel

Fires Caused by Rockets Claim Thousands of Acres of Forests

Contact: Sarit Schonbrun • JNF Communications Manager • 212-879-9305 ext. 222 •

July 31, 2006 -- New York, NY -- Since the start of the conflict in Israel, approximately 2,500 acres of grazing land and 1,500 acres of forests have gone up in flames, destroying over half a million trees and reducing the green landscape of northern Israel to a scorched wasteland.

JNF-KKL firefighters douse smoldering forests.

Jewish National Fund - Keren Kayemeth LeIsrael firefighters have been working around the clock to battle the fires ravaging the northern countryside, risking their lives as Katyusha rockets fall around them.

Through JNF's Operation Security Blanket, over $2,260,000 has been raised to purchase safety equipment and fire trucks to supportfirefighters and emergency response personnel. Donations are also being used to send children living in areas under rocket attack to JNF-KKL summer camps in central Israel as well as to build security bypass roads along the Gaza border.

"There were people I didn't expect to see here," said Andy Michelson, Director of the American Desk at KKL, who volunteered with JNF-KKL firefighters last week. "JNF-KKL foresters from all over the country had come to the north to fight these fires. Nobody told them to come. In fact, they were told not to come -- it's too dangerous -- but come they did, with their equipment, their experience and their energy.

"I continued to watch the teams arrive. Groups of men, tired, dirty, smelling of smoke, but mostly tired. As they walked from their vehicles towards the tent I saw the 'fresh' crews ready to replace their colleagues. There were smiles, words of encouragement, and a camaraderie that Israelis know all too well."

Destroyed trees in Birya Forest.

"Just before we left," said Michelson, "I was introduced to Yossi Biton, a second generation JNF-KKL forest ranger. His father had planted the Birya Forest in the early 1950's and he was battling to save his father's work, literally watching it go up in smoke."

Fire consumes a northern forest.

In addition to the usual dangers of battling fires, JNF-KKL firefighters must now contend with un-detonated explosives and the threat of constant rocket attacks.

"As we were driving through the Birya Forest, looking at the devastation that the fires had caused, we heard the air raid siren signaling that another attack was under way," said Michelson. "Wearing our vests and helmets, we crouched down by the side of our vehicle and waited. The siren usually sounds between 30 to 60 seconds before the missiles impact, so we just looked at each other. What does one say as one waits to see or hear an incoming missile?

"The missile fell on the next hill. The siren stopped, and already we began to see the smoke. A fire had started. The forests are dry, we are in the middle of summer and it takes only a match to set off a fire."

    A fire truck purchased by a JNF donor.   A forest is sprayed with fire-retardant chemicals.   A kit of personal safety equipment.

Donations to Operation Security Blanket have been used to purchase fire trucks, vital safety equipment including shrapnel-proof flexible vests and ceramic helmets, and a special fire-retardant chemical that slows the spread of fires and prevents trees from releasing flammable gases that increase fire intensity.

"Our last visit for the day was the Rosh Pina Airport," said Michelson. "It is from there that the planes depart with the 'red slush,' a chemical imported from Europe that, when sprayed on a forest, sticks to trees, grass, and land, stopping them from burning. We had seen their work earlier:fires stopped in their tracks, a red film covering everything-- trees, roads, cars, people."

To donate to Operation Security Blanket, visit or call 888-JNF-0099.

Photos available as high-resolution jpegs upon request.

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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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