Monday, August 20, 2018 9:49 AM
Over the last 4 months, KKL-JNF firefighters have had to deal with 1160 forest and brush fires on the Gaza border.
In tribute to their intensive battles against the flames caused by incendiary kites and balloons, JNF USA provides KKL-JNF fire fighters in the western Negev with moisture-wicking T-shirts that allow for freedom of movement and easy identification.
Tuesday, August 14, 2018 - It was the second day of quiet on the border with Gaza in the Western Negev, and battle-weary KKL-JNF firefighters were making use of the time to rest and prepare for another possible round of forest fires. They were encouraged by the news that Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman was considering easing the punitive restrictions imposed by Israel on the Gaza Strip due to the recent heavy rocket attacks and massive incendiary kite and balloon protests.
KKL-JNF Western Negev Regional Director Danny Ben-David said that the test would be on the coming Friday after the Muslim midday prayers.
“There are already calls for a huge Palestinian protest along the border on Friday. However, it may be the start of a new period of calm for the region if Hamas manages to prevent violence and the launching of incendiary material towards Israel.”
The firefighters who had all assembled at the KKL-JNF watchtower at Kibbutz Beeri were keen to send their greetings and thanks to JNF USA for their new green moisture-wicking T-shirts that identified them as KKL-JNF firefighters. They said that after a long, intensive shift near burning heat the T-shirts provided a welcome alternative to their heavy flame resistant fire gear.
Over the last 4 months, KKL-JNF firefighters have had to deal with 1160 forest and brush fires, most of which were ignited by combustible kites and balloons that were launched from Gaza. Some 3000 acres of dense forest between Beeri and Kissufim were destroyed. In total, over 10,000 acres of forest, farmland, and nature reserves went up in flames. On some days, up to 15 fires raged simultaneously and KKL-JNF reinforcements and their 4x4 firefighting trucks were bought over from around the country.
Senior KKL-JNF Firefighter Moshe Baruchi said that years of bitter experience along the border makes him skeptical that the threat is over. He said that if it were not for the tenacity and dedication of the KKL-JNF firefighters, the damage would have been much greater than it was.
“The kite and balloon terror was a new phenomenon which created new challenges. We realized that once an incendiary device landed, time was of the, and for that reason we concentrated on detection and quick mobility of our forces. I think we did well.”
The largest and most fierce forest fire took place alongside Kibbutz Beeri on May 3, which ironically, coincided with Lag B’Omer, the Jewish festival celebrated with bonfires. KKL-JNF firefighter Hamed Abu Siam said that every available firefighter and fire truck took part in the operation.
“We were all there. It took over ten hours to take control of the fire and douse the flames. Unfortunately, 110 acres of dense forest were destroyed. Over the last 4 months, 40 percent of the trees in this region were either burned down to the ground or substantially damaged. In most cases the scorched pines will die. The charred eucalyptus trees have a better rate of survivability.”
Rami Zaritzky, director of KKL-JNF’s firefighting division, pointed out that when the staff discuss trees they know exactly what they are talking about.
“These men are all specialized KKL-JNF foresters who become firefighters only when a fire alarm is sounded. They are foresters who trained as firefighters to protect their forests. They do not lack motivation; their problem is a lack of appropriate hardware. The recent spate of fires emphasized the dire need to upgrade our firefighting gear. We need modern fire trucks, lightweight protective clothing, helmets and goggles, and specialized communication equipment.
“Our firefighters work under the most extreme conditions. This time they were operating along the border, so besides carrying hoses and the usual firefighting equipment, they also needed to wear heavy bulletproof vests to protect themselves from possible sniper fire. All this while battling flames for hours on end, under the scorching summer sun. I recently realized that each person should also carry a large supply of drinking water on his back, and I am now looking for appropriate equipment to enable this.
“Another must-have is the recent Israeli hi-tech development of a digital imaging system that will help us monitor our forests remotely on all sorts of levels, including sensitive fire detection. All this is expensive and while we don’t have a sufficient budget at present to get everything, I have begun looking for alternative sources of funding.”
KKL-JNF forester/firefighter Charlie Mor-Yosef emphasized that forests that were unscathed by fire also suffered during this period.
“Over the past 4 months during the heat of summer, we were unable to conduct routine work such as the irrigation of young saplings, and that had a detrimental effect on the forests. The sooner we get back to our primary jobs the better.”
Rami Zaritzky described the state of an elderly KKL-JNF employee who was in tears after a day of dousing a serious fire.
“I approached the man to see what prompted that understandable but extreme response. He told me that he and several friends planted those very trees in the 1960’s after arriving in Israel as new immigrants. He said that he had proudly watched the forest grow over the years and had brought many friends and family to witness the product of his work.”
Zaritzky promised the man that KKL-JNF would spare no efforts in reviving that forest and restoring it to its former state.