Hundreds of firefighters battled a forest fire that tore through the Beit Shemesh area on Friday, destroying nearly 2,000 dunam of woodland.
The blaze has been dubbed “the worst fire since the Carmel disaster” – one that could take the land up to 20 years to recover.
It is not yet clear what started the fire, although officials believe it may have been connected to an authorized fire in a nearby moshav. The extreme heat and dry conditions of the past week, plus a breeze, could have carried a spark from that fire into the nearby forest and up the hills, spreading the blaze, a Jewish National Fund (JNF) official said.
Firefighters from Jerusalem and Beit Shemesh spent the entire day on Friday working to bring the blaze under control. Natural forest and woodland, vegetation and uncultivated land all was leveled to ash.
“Seventy fire trucks with the help of other authorities, among them the police who worked to evacuate communities and civilians,” were involved in the effort, said Kobi Tobol, commander of the Beit Shemesh-Jerusalem District Fire Department.
“Everyone worked throughout the entire day and managed to stop the fire from reaching residential areas. Despite that, in such a big fire, the damage to nature and to the animals is massive and will require many years of rehabilitation.”
Gilad Mastai, Jewish National Fund head of the coastal area and Shfela Plains, explained the forest, planted in the 1950s and 1960s, was relatively old. “Beyond that, resting stops and trails were also damaged,” he told the Hebrew-language Ynet website. “This fire burned grown and large trees in addition to the destruction of the undergrowth of thicket growing under the pine trees.
“There are jackals, snakes and tortoises in the area that were burned and trapped in the fire. This is dozens of years of damage. A unique vacation spot was taken from the people of Israel,” he said.
Nevertheless, Mastai suggested that people return to the forest in the coming year anyway, to “see how it rehabilitates itself.”