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Israel closed its forest fire prediction system in 2017

CM 17/08/2021

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Israel used to employ technology for predicting forest fires, but such a system has not been in place for four years, a representative of the Public Security Ministry has told The Jerusalem Post.
A new company was selected to provide an improved fire-detection system in 2019, but the lack of a functioning government and a budget at the time meant the project was never implemented, according to Barry Lynn, a weather scientist involved with the project.
Wildfires have burned some 4,940 acres of land west of Jerusalem this week in one of the worst blazes in the country’s history. As firefighters have finally contained the fire after nearly three days, some wonder if the disaster could have been avoided.

“Previously, there was a system known as Matash that was used to predict fires, but that was discontinued in 2017,” the Public Security Ministry representative said. “There is newer technology now that can be used to predict fires and see how they will evolve, and a new system is under development by the Fire and Rescue Services, but it won’t be ready for at least a few months.”
The Matash system was developed by the Public Security Ministry in response to the devastating Mount Carmel Forest Fire in 2010, which lasted more than three days and killed 44 people.
The system was lauded internationally when it was launched in 2012 for its two-pronged approach. The first component analyzed meteorological data, such as temperature, relative humidity, precipitation and wind direction and speed, as well as other factors, including topographical conditions, nearby flammable materials and the moisture level of vegetation. The second component provided a model of how the fire would spread, based on the data.
 The sky over Jerusalem painted red and filled with smoke following a massive forest fire raging out in a forest near Beit Meir, outside of Jerusalem on August 15, 2021. (credit: OLIVIER FITOUSSI/FLASH90) The sky over Jerusalem painted red and filled with smoke following a massive forest fire raging out in a forest near Beit Meir, outside of Jerusalem on August 15, 2021. (credit: OLIVIER FITOUSSI/FLASH90)
However, Matash’s technology was already outdated by 2017, and new technological tools could provide more advanced modeling, the ministry representative said. However, a system employing the new technologies is not currently functional.
The Fire and Rescue Services does get information from the Israel Meteorological Service that maps out wind direction, land moisture and other data that would be used to control an existing fire, its spokesman said. However, a complete solution for predicting fire activity will not be in place for a few months.
A full solution would help firefighters decide the best routes for evacuations and the best locations to deploy firefighters. During quiet times, it would also be able to identify fire-prone areas that should be protected and simulate potential fire scenarios so that areas can be better prepared.
Shahar Ayalon, former head of the Fire and Rescue Services, said such a system was important for understanding how fires will develop. The system cannot predict where fires will break out since they often are started by people, whether accidentally or intentionally, as in this case in the Jerusalem area.
“The system is important since it predicts where the fire is going based on winds and other factors,” he said. “It is important and helps.”
Lynn said the old Matash system could only simulate one fire at a time.
“The new system – not yet implemented – would have been able to simulate multiple fires at once,” he said. “A further goal was to upgrade the system to be able to simulate long-lasting fires, including new simulations from previous fires.”
In 2018, a tender was issued for a new fire-prediction system, Lynn said, and his company was selected as the winner in 2019 with technology based on the WRF-SFIRE model, which combines the Weather Research and Forecasting Model (WRF) with a fire-spread model and has existed for more than a decade.
“We won the tender for our system that could predict how a fire would spread,” Lyn said.
“We were informed that the money was allocated, and we had several meetings about getting started with it, but they never released the money,” he said.
“There is so much new wildfire forecast technology that could be implemented to the benefit of our country, if not for the lack of budget and political backing,” Lynn said. “The small financial cost of setting up this system doesn’t compare to the damage done to the area now.”

Source: Jerusalem Post

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