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JNF Vows to Rebuild in Wake of Forest Fire

The Jewish National Fund, which was responsible for planting most of the 2 million trees and 6,000 acres of forested land that were burned in what has been described as the worst forest fire in Israel’s history, has vowed to rehabilitate the charred areas.

“Israel is in mourning, but we will rebuild,” JNF World Chairman Moshe Rivlin said in the aftermath of the fire.

In a teleconference address last week to more than 200 American leaders of JNF, Rivlin said: “Hopefully, the people that planted the trees will be there to help replant the trees after the first rains in November.”

The blaze, whose origin has been determined to be accidental, started near a moshav bordering the Jerusalem highway and was aided by intense heat followed by unusually strong gales of wind.

An inquiry conducted by the Jerusalem Police Department this week officially ruled out arson as the cause of the July 2 blaze.

Jerusalem Police Chief Aryeh Amit told the Knesset Interior Committee on Monday that the fire resulted from conditions created by what was the hottest day in Israel in 40 years. Temperatures exceeded 100 degrees.

The flames, which reached heights of 60 feet, torched the highly flammable Jerusalem Pines, causing an estimated $25 million in damage, destroying dozens of homes and wiping out the region’s wildlife population.

Several communities, including Shoresh, Telstone, Shoeva, Yad Hashmona and Neve Ilan had to be evacuated. Forty-four people had to be hospitalized with minor injuries, mostly from smoke inhalation.

The forest areas destroyed included part of the Martyr’s Memorial Forest and Park Canada.

In the wake of the devastating fire, JNF leaders said they believe that the destruction could have been more tragic and extensive without the recent incorporation of sophisticated fire prevention technology.

“It would have been far worse had we not had the modern equipment,” Samuel Cohen, executive vice president of JNF said at the gathering of JNF leaders. “It was absolutely pivotal.”

During the peak of the Palestinian uprising, when arson was used as a terrorist tool, Forest Service officials with the United States Department of Agriculture recommended several steps to fight forest fires.

JNF officials said it had implemented several of the recommendations, including the creation of fire roads and observation towers staffed with walkie-talkies. Also, four-wheel drive fire trucks, which can navigate steep terrains and carry a large supplies of water, were purchased.

JNF officials said the organization plans to spare no cost in repairing the forest.

Before the fire was even completely extinguished, a team of JNF forest rangers and specialists were on a surveillance plane to assess the damages and begin plans for rehabilitation.

“The first stage in the process is to clean the forest and take a scientific survey to see what nature can handle,” Rivlin said in the teleconference address.

“Only then can we begin the long road of replanting what was destroyed,” he added.

Rivlin was optimistic about the future.

“The response in Israel has been great, from the individual who called to donate one tree to the bank that promised 25,000. I’m sure that the response [in America] will be the same.”

One of the most moving incidents that transpired during the fire, according to Rivlin, was in telstone, where yeshiva students carrying scrolls helped evacuate women from a childbirth convalescent hospital.

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