The Jewish National Fund says it will take 20 years to recover from the massive brush fire that swept through hundreds of dunams of woodland near Beit Shemesh on Friday, killing local wildlife and decimating forests.
“This was a fire of large, mature trees, in addition to the eradication of sub-forest woodland growing under the pine trees. Local coyotes, and snakes were also trapped by the fire and perished,” Gilad Mastai, the director of the coastal plain region for the JNF, told the website Ynet Saturday. “The damage [will last] for decades.”
He said that according to initial estimates, between 1,500-2,000 dunams (370-494 acres) of land caught fire.
“It will take 20 years for the forest to return to normal,” Mastai said, calling the area a unique attraction. He added, however, that “people can return to the forest as soon as next year and see the rehabilitation processes.”
Mastai stressed that the working assumption at present is that the fire began because of poor pruning in one of the local communities, and “due to the topography and extreme weather, the fire rose to the hills and treetops and burned hundreds of acres.”
He urged the public not to approach the area. “There is a danger of collapsing trees and fire-fighting is still ongoing,” he said.
It took 70 teams of firefighters and a dozen planes more than nine hours to bring the blaze under control on Friday.
The fire erupted in the afternoon and quickly spread throughout the woodlands. Residents of nearby communities had been warned to prepare for evacuation as firefighters worked to stamp out the flames. Sections of Route 44, which runs from Tel Aviv to Esthaol were closed to traffic in both directions.
Fire and Rescue Commissioner Shahar Ayalon called the effort to quell the conflagration the largest firefighting operation since 2010’s Carmel fire, which raged in the forests near Haifa for four days and claimed 44 lives.