View of the Israel Carmel Forest fire encroaching on the University of Haifa campus. Image credit University of Haifa
An act of God, arson, or negligence? A lot of questions are being asked by Israelis as to why they needed to suffer the worst fire in the nations’s histrry this weekend – a fire that gobbled about 5,000 hectares of land. Scouts in the forests planted to watch for arsonists reported young men on horseback hurling molotov cocktails into fresh parts of forests to stoke the flames. But this is something you might not hear in the media for fear of political backlash.
Moving on to the conditions that allowed the fire to rage out of control, reporting from Haifa University, part of the UNESCO bioreserve in the Carmel Mountain is Dr. Lea Wittenberg and Dr. Dan Melkinson. They say that from all the fires on the Carmel over the past 30 years a total of about 3,000 hectares of forest were burnt. The present blaze has burnt down some 5,000 (12,350 acres) hectares.
“The extent and intensity of the fire depend on the conditions in the forest, on climate and topography. A young and damp forest will not burn. A mature forest that has accumulated many combustive materials and that is very dry due to a lack of rain, along with strong winds, will cause extensive fires. Nothing would have been able to stop this great fire from reaching the proportions that it did,” the researchers said.
“Since 1978 the Carmel Mountains have seen some 500 small and medium fires and 9 large-scale conflagrations, which are considered such when over 100 hectares are burnt. All these fires together burnt some 3,000 hectares of forest, while the present fire has burnt some 5,000 hectares,” says Wittenberg who has been researching the Carmel Forest for 20 years.
According to researchers, what determines the force of a fire is the forest conditions, and at times even the best human deployment cannot help: The extent and intensity of the fire depend on the conditions in the forest. A young and damp forest will not burn. A mature forest that has accumulated many combustive materials will burn easily.
“With no rainfall for the past eight months, the forest became extremely dry, and along with the strong winds, the present fire grew so wild. Nothing could have stopped it from reaching its great proportions. The smoke began at 11 a.m. and by noon we had a full view of massive flames,” the researchers report.
Even in this sort of enormous fire, there are locations that are burnt to a cinder and other places where the forest is only singed, they say. The problem with fires in the Carmel is that there are some areas that have been burnt twice or even three times over the past thirty years. It will be very difficult to revive these areas because of the extreme damage to their soil and vegetation.
Both have begun scouting the field in order to map out the region’s sensitivities. “The approach is not to ‘go out and bring back the green,’ but to observe the ground and consider where to plant anew and where not,” they noted.
If you don’t think this fire is a big deal, read what was lost – last year I wrote a feature on the United Nations protected Carmel Forest, pointing out species diversity in plants and animals, and how important it is for the local Druze communities.
Read more on the Israel Carmel Fire:
Israel Carmel Fire Kills 40 People
The Worst Fire in Israel’s History Rages Out of Control
Israel Carmel Fire Raging Out of Control Friday Morning