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Cabinet approves NIS 155 million plan to prepare for massive wildfires

Announcement comes six months after blaze in Jerusalem hills; Bennett says: ‘We’re not waiting for the next disaster’

Sue Surkes is The Times of Israel's environment reporter.

Illustrative: Firefighters try to extinguish a fire at moshav Givat Ye'arim outside Jerusalem on August 16, 2021. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)
Illustrative: Firefighters try to extinguish a fire at moshav Givat Ye'arim outside Jerusalem on August 16, 2021. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

The government on Sunday approved a NIS 155 million ($48 million) national plan to prepare for massive wildfires, as part of a broader strategy for coping with the effects of climate change.

Put together by the Prime Minister’s Office, the Public Security Ministry and the Environmental Protection Ministry, the plan provides for the creation of firebreaks to distance homes from adjacent woodlands and forests and to stop fires from spreading.

It also includes better coordination with the fire service’s airborne division and a multi-year plan to strengthen the fire service in general.

“The whole world is warming because of climate change, and fires pose a real danger to life,” Prime Minister Naftali Bennett said. “The national plan we have formulated will add firebreaks in places where there are a lot of trees and where it’s easy for fires to spread, to prevent harm to life and property.”

An inter-ministerial team is to be set up to determine how best to protect residential and other facilities, and ensure access for fire engines and availability of water sources.

The air force will be made available to provide backup in airborne fire fighting, in line with a program to be developed by the defense and public security ministries.

Firefighting planes battle a blaze near Beit Meir outside of Jerusalem, on August 15, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

The project will be funded from the budgets of the finance, public security, environmental protection, interior, and agriculture ministries as well as the Israel Lands Authority.

Last summer, some 25,000 dunams (6,200 acres) of forest around Jerusalem went up in flames in a massive fire.

Several towns and villages were evacuated. At the height of the blaze, it was feared that Hadassah Medical Center at Ein Kerem might need to be evacuated.

At the Eitanim psychiatric hospital, 156 patients and staff assembled, ready to evacuate as the fire came close, only to realize that the sole access road was impassable. Police and fire service officers led a rescue mission through the flames.

It took three days and the efforts of 204 firefighting crews, 20 planes, IDF rescue teams, and help from Palestinian firefighters to fully extinguish the blaze. People lost homes. Luckily, none lost their lives.

The Carmel fire raging through the forest on December 2, 2010 (photo credit: Gili Yaari/ Flash90)
The Carmel fire raging through the forest on December 2, 2010. (Gili Yaari/ Flash90)

In 2010, a catastrophic blaze on Mount Carmel trapped a bus full of Prisons Service officers, most of them new recruits, who were on their way to evacuate Damon Prison before the flames got there. Their vehicle was engulfed by fire and 44 people were killed.

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