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Israel News

Jerusalem could have all gone up in smoke in latest wildfire

CM 19/08/2021

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Margot and Benny Dudkevitch were on their way from Jerusalem to their home in Ramat Raziel on Sunday afternoon when they first saw the billows of smoke as they approached the moshav.
“We saw the flames were surrounding our moshav and we were worried,” Margot, a former Jerusalem Post reporter, said. “We drove to our house and took what we could, including our dog, who had just had an operation. How do you pack a life in 15 minutes? We just took what we could and put everything in the car.”
But, she said, as they hit the main road everything was barricaded and the police would not let them through. Their only choice was another road that led up to the Pillar of Fire statue which is above the moshav. There, they joined about 30 of their neighbors to watch as the fire spread, endangering their homes.

She said they were there for more than two hours, and no police or firemen came to offer help. She had water, but some of the others, including a few young families, did not.
At about 7:45 p.m., she said, the police came and told them to follow them to another route out of the area. They soon found themselves blocked again, and Margot and Benny decided to return to their home on Ramat Raziel, which today has about 160 families.
“There was no water and no electricity, and the smoke was very thick, so obviously we didn’t sleep,” she said. “Then the flames started up again and we decided to evacuate again.”
This time, they asked their vet to take care of their dog for a few days, and then headed to Beersheba, where one of their daughters lives.
The next morning, they got a message from the authorities saying they could return to their home and that electricity had been restored. However, they were warned, they might have to evacuate yet again, if the fire restarted.
They returned home and threw away all the food in their refrigerator and freezer that had spoiled over two days with no electricity. She said she is grateful that her home was not damaged, and that the fire was a frightening experience. She has lived in the moshav since 1983.
“I was trying to stay positive, and I’m grateful that nobody was hurt,” she said. “But the entire landscape around us is scorched and it’s very said. The landscape that my children knew growing up, their entire lives, is now different.”
The Dudkevitches’ story echoed thousands of other residents of communities in the Jerusalem Hills, from Beit Meir and Shoresh to Givat Ye’arim and Tzova, whose property and belongings were close to going up in the flames as a result of this week’s massive fires between Sunday afternoon and Tuesday night.
The enormous wildfire destroyed more than 2,500 hectares (6,200 acres) of forest outside Jerusalem. Officials said the fact that there were no physical injuries to people, although thousands of small animals reportedly died in the fire, meant it was handled successfully. (The Mount Carmel Forest Fire in December 2010 left 44 people dead.)
Anyone who lived near Jerusalem was affected by the fires this week. It looked almost like a solar eclipse – a thick pall of smoke stretched across the sky. The sun shone pink through the smoke, which made breathing difficult.
A total of 1,500 firefighters fought the flames for 52 hours before declaring the fire out. Israeli media published pictures of exhausted firefighters sleeping on the side of highways.
While Israel originally called for international help, it decided that it could manage on its own, except for four firetrucks that came from the Palestinian Authority. Both Foreign Minister Yair Lapid and Defense Minister Benny Gantz thanked the PA for its help.
 A FIREFIGHTING PLANE disperses fire retardant near Beit Meir, on the outskirts of Jerusalem, on Monday. (credit: AMMAR AWAD/REUTERS) A FIREFIGHTING PLANE disperses fire retardant near Beit Meir, on the outskirts of Jerusalem, on Monday. (credit: AMMAR AWAD/REUTERS)
IN GIVAT YE’ARIM, residents were also told to evacuate, but Nissim Moshe decided not to leave. The flames were just meters away from his chicken coop which holds 1,500 chickens. He says that if the chicken coop had gone up in flames, it would have cost him hundreds of thousands of shekels to rebuild. As it happened, he said, the firefighters came at the last minute and saved the property.
“It was really a miracle,” he said. “The police said we should leave, but I refused. I said I would leave when the fire got too close, and they let me stay.”
He slept in his home for two nights, he said, without electricity or water.
“It was like living in the Middle Ages,” he said.
His wife, who works in Jerusalem, was stopped on her way home, turned around and stayed with relatives in Jerusalem.
Moshe is very grateful to the firefighters for saving his home and his chicken coop and asked to mention them by name – Kobi Shmaya and Nadav Maimon – both from Bnei Brak.
THE PRECISE cause of the fire has not yet been found, but it is either negligence, similar to what caused the Carmel fire, or arson. In any case, Israel should be prepared for more fires like this.
“These fires are part of climate change,” said Knesset member Alon Tal, a longtime environmental activist and former chairman of the Land Development Committee of Keren Kayemeth LeIsrael-Jewish National Fund. “We can’t deal with it as a passing episode but as a new natural resource challenge.”
He said that large areas of forest land that are next to populated communities must be cleared to create breaks and protect them from fire. He said there needs to be better aerial surveillance and more funds invested in firefighting.
Yael Paran, the cochairwoman of the Green Party in Israel, said that climate change is responsible for hotter, dryer summers as well as floods in the winter, and these changes are happening more quickly than originally forecast.
“Israel has to understand we are living in an area which is going to be a hot spot for the future,” she said. “There will be more extreme heat which will lead to more fires and more floods in the winter.”
She called for both technology and policy changes that will respond to the new situation, including a funding increase for firefighting.
Meanwhile, Tal also cautioned against the very Israeli tendency to try to repair the damage immediately and plant new trees as quickly as possible.
“The first thing you do after a fire is give nature a couple of years to get over the shock and start to restore itself,” he said. “Often the woodlands that emerge are more diverse and more robust than the original forest.”

Source: Jerusalem Post

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