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In the Aftermath of the Fire

By Dr. Melinda Wolf on February 28, 2011


In the aftermath of the largest fire in Israel's history, I wanted to experience firsthand, the ravages to the Carmel Forest, and understand what must happen in order to renew and rebuild it. In January, I spent an unforgettable day with two special men who are both intimately connected to the land, in their work and their souls. Their names are Philip Yosef Zenou and Salman Abu Rukun. Philip is an organic farmer in the village of Klil, and is dedicated to restoring the trees and plants indigenous to the Western Galilee. Salman is senior management in the Israel Nature and Parks Authority (INPA), the governmental body charged with the protection of nature, landscape, and heritage in Israel. His family has cared for this land for generations.

With Philip, I stood above a burned-out home on the hillside of Kibbutz Beit Oren, looking out at a mosaic of thousands of acres of brown and green forest, a barren landscape in contrast to the day’s vivid blue sky. The patches of brown were burned pine trees, the green were the strong, still-living oak trees. Philip explained that because pine trees are highly flammable and, given the severe drought conditions and strong winds, once the fire ignited, it relentlessly spread from pine tree to pine tree. The oak trees, in contrast, stood resilient and even created a front line of defense to the fire. Up-close, the roots of the oak trees were left charred yet intact, and green leaves still clung to branches that had managed to survive the extensive destruction of the forest.

Salman led the two of us along the paths of Hai Bar, the INPA's animal sanctuary and breeding center. Hai Bar is dedicated to preserving threatened species of mammals and birds of prey, and reintroducing them to their natural habitat. In this magical place, nesting vultures, fallow deer, and oryx grazed and lounged peacefully, unaware of the devastation and tragedy surrounding them.
Salman recounted, moment by moment, the story of how Hai Bar, on the brink of being consumed by flames that already had reached its edges, was saved only by the pure bravery of men dedicated to preserving life. Witnesses had reported that Hai Bar, with all of its animals, was lost. Yet obscured within dark smoke clouds, Salman and other volunteers carried water packs and formed the front line that held the fire at bay. These men, armed with their hands, bravery, and commitment, saved these beautiful creatures, the future fauna of the Galilee.

The resilient oak trees, together with the committed men in Hai Bar, formed the front lines to hold back the fire’s destruction. This may be the metaphor as to how man should best work with nature to defend, restore, and preserve the forests and all the life within.

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