Fighting Wildfires in Israel

When a forest fire breaks out, KKL-JNF sends all its firefighters, rangers, foresters and equipment (fire trucks and helicopters) to put it out. Nevertheless, the most important weapon against forest fires is prevention: building forest roads and firebreaks, removing pruned foliage, organizing educational campaigns and fire spotting.

Once a wildfire spreads, it can destroy thousands of acres of forests and woodlands. Rehabilitating the burnt areas is a complex, extended process – even after the trees grow back, it can take many more years for the ecosystem to recuperate and return to its former state.

When trees burn, entire ecosystems are destroyed. Plants and the animals that feed on the trees, small wildlife that burrows under leaf litter, birds that nest on trees, rodents that burrow in the ground – the list goes on and on. We may never know the true extent of the damage done by the wildfires that plague Israel every summer. Reptiles (tortoises and lizards) fleeing the fire are killed by vehicles while trying to cross roads. Jackals are caught in the flames and their heartbreaking wails can be heard for kilometers. The entire system is vulnerable to fire – even those areas that are usually "protected" by being closed to people.

KKL-JNF firefigher, November 2016. Photo: KKL-JNF

KKL-JNF invests more than $5,000,000 annually in fighting fires in Israel's forests and open spaces. This sum includes maintenance and operation of KKL-JNF's firefighting services which include 22 firefighting vehicles, dozens of fire fighters on duty 24 hours a day, communications systems and 30 fire watchtowers in forests throughout the country that are manned around the clock.

The modern firefighting vehicles, which were purchased with the support of friends of KKL-JNF worldwide, can traverse tough terrains and thick forests. KKL-JNF also operates a forest fire risk forecast service as well as participating in the management of an aerial firefighting fund and forest fires investigations, along with the implementation of conclusions arrived at from past experience.

KKL-JNF World Chairman Efi Stenzler referred to ongoing waves of forest fires as "ecological terror". Its goal is to cause damage to people, property, quality of life and even the quality of the air. Fires destroy trees, which are Israel's green lungs. Stenzler also said that new ways of protecting the forests, including the installation of cameras and creating community forest patrols would be looked into.

Friends of KKL-JNF in Israel and around the world have joined the fight against the forest fires, which have caused great ecological and economic damage, and are helping to rehabilitate the forests and open spaces that went up in flames.

KKL-JNF Photo Archive

After the fires, KKL-JNF foresters estimate the damage and make plans for the area that was burned. In the past, the burnt trees were immediately removed from the area and the planting of new trees began the first winter after the fires. Now, however, in certain areas, KKL-JNF foresters wait and do an in-depth study of the burnt area.
Some trees, particularly evergreen forest trees, regenerate after fires. The Canary Island pine, for example, has the ability to regenerate after forest fires. If the fire was not particularly intense, or if it passed through the forest relatively quickly, a tree that appears burnt may actually still be alive and capable of regeneration. Wherever this is not the case, tree planting will begin this winter.

Getting organized to rehabilitate a forest is a complicated matter that begins at the KKL-JNF nurseries. The purpose of the nurseries is to supply seedlings to the rehabilitated areas, according to the planting program.

After the Second Lebanese War, KKL-JNF foresters studied the areas that had been burnt and decided to change some of the tree species previously planted in them. Instead of pines, cedars were planted along with oaks, terebinths, arbutus, carob trees and even some fruit trees – pomegranates, figs and mulberries. Besides replanting, the taking over of the area by the pine seeds has to be prevented. They tend to proliferate after fires, and they have to be thinned out, according to needs of each individual area.

Supporting KKL-JNF's work of planting and maintaining forests has always been one of the most meaningful expressions of solidarity with Israel and KKL-JNF by friends and supporters around the world. In our modern world, in which human activity is often the cause of damage to the environment, your support for our forest rehabilitation or maintenance projects is creating a better and healthier environment for Israel and the entire planet.

Regrowth after fire in the Naftali Mountains. Photo: Avi Hirschfield, KKL-JNF