'A Human, Not Ecological, Disaster'

Forest fire prevention strategy must change, experts warn.

The Carmel region has been hit with a series of fires in recent years, but yesterday it suffered the worst blow yet. The blaze that continued into the night has already consumed nearly 10,000 dunams of vegetation, almost one-eighth of the entire national park on the Carmel Mountains - a third of which is made up of nature preserves and parks, and the remainder forests owned by the Jewish National Fund.

The fire severely damaged one of the most frequently visited regions by Israeli nature lovers, comprised of both Mediterranean vegetation and pine trees. The speed with which the blaze spread was catastrophic; its immediate impact will effect all forms of the area's rich wildlife, be they animal or plant.

The fire also released many tiny pollutants into the atmosphere, which can effect the respiratory system. Unless the blaze is brought under control in the coming days, there may be a health hazard in the making for residents of the Haifa region.

Professor Avi Perevolotsky, former chief scientist of the Israel Nature and Parks Authority, says the fire's main damage is not ecological.

"What was lost here was the vista, which was very important to the public, " he said. "It will take 20, perhaps 40, years for it to be restored. The forests will be restored, especially the pine forests, but as we have seen in the northern parts of the Carmel that burned down before, 20 years have gone by and the growth is still relatively [low]. Nor does it look the way the Carmel forests typically look."

Dr. Yohay Carmel of the Technion, who specializes in forest rehabilitation, warned the authorities currently managing Israel's forests that the strategy in countering fires must change.

"I told them that they need to divert their focus from the forests and look at how to protect communities - and to do this it's necessary to create a sterile strip where there is no vegetation," Carmel said. "But they said they do not have the necessary resources to implement such a strategy." "What happened yesterday was a human disaster, not an ecological disaster - as the media categorized it," he added. "There are fires in the forests, but they can rebuild themselves. Ecological damage will only occur if the blaze sweeps through the majority of the Carmel region. In that case, there won't be any seeds or animal life which would be able to restore the forests and the vegetation."