Israelis asked to avoid national parks amid fear of fires, falling branches

Israelis were asked to avoid national parks on Saturday amid concerns that high temperatures and winds could lead to wildfires and branches falling from trees.

The warning was issued by the KKL-JNF (Jewish National Fund), a quasi-governmental body that oversees around 13 percent of Israel’s land.

The country saw higher than average temperatures on Saturday, coupled with strong easterly winds — a combination that experts warn can lead to devastating fires. The wind also brought dust from the direction of Jordan, which the Environmental Protection Ministry cited as the cause of high air pollution levels in Jerusalem, the West Bank, Jordan Valley and parts of the Negev desert.

Israel experiences a massive wildfire every few years, with especially large ones in 1989, 1995, 2010, 2016, 2019 and 2021. Some of those blazes are suspected to have been sparked by arson or negligence.

Climate models show they’re getting more frequent and more fast-spreading, in part due to climate change bringing rising temperatures and a longer summer dry season.

Read more: Fire chief says Jerusalem-area towns fiddling as surrounding woods set to burn again

Firefighters and residents battle a fire with the help of planes in a forest near Beit Meir outside of Jerusalem, on August 15, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Saturday’s warning came as governmental authorities and other bodies have ramped up efforts to prepare for wildfire season, clearing underbrush and other overgrown flora that could provide fuel for brush fires to keep blazes contained and introducing new tools that officials hope will help them deal with a problem only expected to get worse.

A 2017 government report recommended establishing a single supervisory body to oversee a coordinated nationwide effort to implement fire prevention measures in all Israel’s forests, irrespective of who owns or manages them. The recommendation has never been implemented.

Sue Surkes contributed to this report.