Hai Bar - Yaron Kaminsky - 4.12.2010
Hai Bar Nature Reserve, Dec. 4, 2010. Photo by Yaron Kaminsky
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Despite the knowledge that, as of yesterday evening, 40 percent of the Carmel Forest had been damaged by the fire raging in the north, the Hai Bar Carmel reserve managed to survive multiple onslaughts of flames. On Thursday, the first day of the fire, Yousef Makalar, who works at the reserve said the behavior of the rare fallow deer that make their home there tipped him off that something was wrong.

Gradually the flames began to consume ridge after ridge around Hai Bar, a nature reserve that raises animals for reintroduction into the wild. The Israel Nature and Parks Authority staff watched the flames advance with disbelief.

The birds of prey at the reserve were moved to a safer location, but the mammals at Hai Bar remained there because of the logistical problems involved in moving them.

They would have had to have been shot with tranquilizer darts and the wind conditions in the reserve were not conducive to such an operation, according to Ben Rosenberg of the parks authority. He also said it would have been difficult to find alterative locations for such a large number of animals.

"Therefore we created an area in which they could maneuver among the enclosures where they could flee the fire, if they needed to, in an area where there is little vegetation," he said.

On Friday the flames began to encroach on the grounds of Hai Bar and despite the pleas of the park authority for airborne firefighting assistance, the staff was told other locations were a higher priority.

However, Environmental Protection Minister Gilad Erdan, who witnessed the situation from a neighboring hill, intervened and demanded that aircraft be sent over the reserve. Erdan said water and flame retardant were then dropped on the site, at the last possible moment.

The flames approached again early yesterday, actually invading the grounds of Hai Bar, but the reserve was again saved by firefighters and park personnel. Despite the consternation the fire had engendered, the fallow deer at Hai Bar remained calm yesterday, as a rare Egyptian vulture that had been released from Hai Bar into the wild before the fire, hovered overhead.