December 2, 2010
Deadly Israeli wildfire draws U.S., Los Angeles support
The Jewish National Fund (JNF) and its partner, the Friends of Israel Firefighters (FIF), are leading efforts to raise funds to supply Israel’s beleaguered and aging firefighting force with the equipment it needs to battle the out-of-control brushfire consuming Israel’s Carmel Mountains near Haifa.
The fire had taken the lives of at least 40 prison guard students, and consumed 2,500 acres as of Thursday night in Israel. It could be days or weeks before the fire is contained, experts say. Nearly all of Israel’s 1,550 firefighters have been called up to fight the fire, leaving cities vulnerable during Chanukah, when incidents of house fires usually rise.
JNF has set up a special fund to raise emergency cash to help Israel fight this fire.
Mark Egerman, former mayor of Beverly Hills and Western regional director of FIF, says money raised now can go to immediately purchase protective suits for firefighters and other equipment that can help them in the next few days.
“This is not a question of raising money to get trucks to them in the next six months,” Egerman said. “This is about getting protective gear to them in the next couple days or in a week or two weeks.”
Los Angeles County officials are determining whether its local repositories of fire suppressant can be sent to Israel to help fight the fire, according to County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky.
On Thursday afternoon Yaroslavsky spoke on conference call with Israeli Ambassador Michael Oren, Israeli Consul General in Los Angeles Yaakov Dayan, Congressman Howard Berman and the Los Angeles County Fire Chief P. Michael Freeman to assess what Israel’s needs are and how Los Angeles will be able to help.
Firefighting services can only be dispatched to foreign countries by the State Department.
While Californian can’t get firefighting aircraft to Israel quickly enough to help, and countries like Cypress, Greece and Russia are sending Israel firefighting helicopters and planes, there are other needs, such as for fire retardants, which are quickly running out, Oren and Dayan told the Americans.
As of Thursday afternoon, city and county officials were checking their supplies, and the U.S. Forest Service was also being contacted to see what supplies could be made available from across the country.
Yaroslavsky said he has a sister who lives in the fire region, whom he visited there in October. She told him Thursday that she could see the glow of the fire a few ridges away from the mountain on which she lives.
Yaroslavsky said he has been following the fire on Israel’s Channel One and Voice of Israel, and said conditions in Carmel are quite similar to California – heavily vegetated and dry mountains, leading to the sea. In addition, the erratic winds now afflicting the fire area are warm easterly winds off the Syrian desert, similar to Southern California’s Santa Anas.
But while this year California’s fire season has been tempered by rains throughout the early fall, Israel has yet to see a real rainfall this year. And Israel, which doesn’t have forest fires as often as the U.S. West Coast, isn’t nearly as well equipped as California, which now owns aircraft that can drop water even at night.
“The Israelis do a lot of things well, because they unfortunately have a lot of practice. But this is not one of them,” Yaroslavsky said. “They do as well as they can given the equipment they have, but it’s not California or Oregon or Washington or British Columbia, where we live with this every year nine months out of the year, and we’re trained and equipped with state-of-the-art equipment,” Yaroslavsky said.
And even with that equipment, he added, things can go terribly wrong.
“Even then we have disasters on our hands, like the Station Fire last year.”
JNF has scheduled a national conference call open to the public for 9 a.m. Pacific time Dec. 3, where representatives from Israel’s firefighting service and the Israeli and American leadership of JNF will brief callers on the situation on the ground and what supporters can do to help (call in to (800) 862-9098, conference ID 4477235).
Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa has also called L.A. Consul General Dayan to offer support. The consulate said it welcomes all help from friends and is working to assess what form that help might take.
The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles is also currently gathering information and raising funds to send directly to Israel. http://www.jewishla.org/israelwildfires
The American Associates of the Haifa Foundation, which raises funds to support municipal needs in Haifa, is raising funds to purchase a firetruck for immediate use, which costs around $300,000. It is also raising funds for the future rehabilitation of the forest and to aid evacuees.
Meanwhile, JNF, which has historically worked to revitalize Israel’s forests, and the FIF are well positioned to get immediate help where it is needed.
In addition to protective suits and gear, which cost about $2,000 each, FIF hopes to be able to purchase infrared equipment to help firefighters locate people in very thick smoke, hoses and nozzles, air tanks, and forcible entry tools.
Israel’s forests are generally urban forests, with villages and adjacent to large urban centers. More than 10,000 people have already been evacuated from the fire zone.
FIF was founded about 10 years ago to raise funds for municipalities in Israel, which run the local firehouses. Because cities are often cash-strapped, firefighting equipment was quickly aging, Egerman said.
In the last several years, FIF has purchased about 90 mini-pumper firefighting trucks at more than $100,000 each, according to Egerman. Those trucks were used extensively during Israel’s war with Hezbollah in 2006, to extinguish fires set of by rockets fired into northern Israel.
Egerman got involved with FIF soon after he retired from the Beverly Hills City Council, where he served from 1997 to 2005. Prior to that he was on Beverly Hills board of education and served as board president in 1987.
FIF became part of JNF several years ago, when JNF reached out to offer the support of its national infrastructures as FIF worked to raise funds for Israel’s firefighters.
Before the fire broke out, JNF in Los Angeles had already scheduled its annual breakfast for Dec. 14 with keynote speaker Amir Levy, fire chief of the Western Galilee—the area now affected. The breakfast will raise funds for Israel’s firefighters.
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