‘Humans caused forest fires to rage across Israel’
Written by Avraham Zuroff
Wednesday, 21 July 2010
JERUSALEM – More than 300,000 trees were destroyed in major fires that
recently devastated Israeli forests. The fires burned over 750 acres of
forested and open areas. A Jewish National Fund (JNF) spokesperson said
that June 29 marked the single largest day of fires in Israel since the
2006 war with Hezbollah, and that it would take 50 years to restore the
JNF’s Central Region Director Hanoch Zureff, an expert on forest fires
and forest rehabilitation, explained that the estimates of how long it
will take to rehabilitate the forests are based on previous cases of
reforestation. “It takes about 70 years to create a forest in Israel,
starting from scratch,” Zureff told the Jewish Tribune. In contrast, he
explained that reforesting after a fire takes less time since the burnt
trees spread their seeds, which allows the area to self-rehabilitate.
Investigators say the evidence pinpoints arson as the cause of many of
the fires, especially the large one south of Beit Shemesh, as the fire
spread from several locations simultaneously. The severe heat wave
prevailing in Israel on that day served to further intensify the fires
and expand the total area affected.
Either human negligence or arson causes all forest fires in Israel,
Zureff stated. Natural causes, such as summer thunderstorms – a major
cause of North American forest fires – do not occur in Israel’s
rain-free summers. Nor does Israel have self-igniting peat soil,
another cause of fires in Canadian wetlands.
Zureff said that the prevention of forest fires is crucial. “We know
that the majority of the fires aren’t caused by arson, but negligence,”
the JNF director mentioned.
All residents of the agricultural community Sdot Micha, located near
Beit Shemesh, were evacuated from their homes and several homes
reportedly burned down. Residents at the adjacent communities of Tirosh
and Gefen were also evacuated. No resident was reported hurt but three
fire fighters were evacuated to receive treatment for smoke inhalation.
Fires raged elsewhere across the country, including several
medium-sized fires near Jerusalem and several large-scale fires in the
Galilee. Zureff said that 30 percent of the Galilee fires are caused by
arson, “which is a huge number.” However, he wouldn’t comment whether
the recent arsons were nationalistically-motivated. “Most of the arsons
are done by pyromaniacs. We even caught a Jewish pyromaniac
unsuccessfully attempting to light a fire near Beit Shemesh,” Zureff
Since 1901, the JNF has planted 240 million trees; created over 1,000
parks and recreational areas; and built over 205 reservoirs and water
recycling centres, increasing Israel’s water supply by 12 per cent.