The Carmel Disaster – Post Wildfire Photos

In December of 2010 I was living in a tiny kibbutz called Beit Oren ("House of Pines"), nestled deep in the Carmel ridge by Haifa. I was studying to be a tour guide and my single room flat was small, quiet and offered no distractions other than forest pathways and wild flowers hidden in the undergrowth.

Post Wildfire Photos

But December that year saw no flowers, since the rains had still not come. Everything was crackling and dry after nine months without a drop, and then it happened. I was loading my groceries in a parking lot in Haifa when I looked up and saw a beautiful, strange-looking cloud, hanging above the mountain. Quickly I realized that was no ordinary cloud, and that it was located just where home was. By that time the road had already been closed, and I was stuck there with nothing but my wallet and phone.

The fire raged for five days, and already on its first day it was the worst fire disaster in the history of Israel. 17,000 people were evacuated, 74 buildings were destroyed and nearly 10,000 acres of the Carmel National Park's forest were burnt. A lot of those trees were planted throughout the last century by the Jewish National Fund, who in its eagerness to "make the land green again" missed the fact that pine trees were not exactly native to the eco-system, extremely flammable and terrible at post-fire rehabilitation. The flames were quick and vicious, and took the lives of 44 people, mostly prison service cadets, sent to help in the evacuation of the local prison.

On the third day everyone was still in the dark as to the status of our homes. No one was allowed up there, and judging by the constant news broadcasts, Beit Oren was burnt to the ground. All day long they would show long sweeping camera shots of the scorched landscape, landscape I used to look at every day, taken from the ruined paths of Beit Oren.

Post Wildfire Photos

Then, at one point in the endless broadcasts, my eye caught a patch of green leaves on a bush, right in the corner of the screen. Gradually my tired brain put together that if those leaves were still green, there must be some areas that the fire hadn't reached after all. I almost shouted at the TV to show me more of that green, to see what was left - but they just cut back to the studio, and then back to more long shots of blackened hills.

In my frustration I suddenly had a strange realization - why would they show the green parts? They were sent there to cover the fire and its damages, not "the places that looked exactly the same as they did before".

Eventually a whole week passed and we were allowed to return to our homes. Beit Oren was badly damaged, that much was true, but only in 10% of its area. The rest was just fine, mostly thanks to several brave, stubborn natives who refused to evacuate the first couple of days and fought the fire manually wherever it tried to take hold.

Post Wildfire Photos

Fire damage in Beit Oren. The sign directs to the kindergartens.

Surprisingly, that sad week had taught me a lesson that I share with my tourists to this day: when world media presents Israel as a place that's all war, controversy, suffering and madness, it is only doing its job. It is sent here to cover exactly those topics, and it delivers. Whether it does so in a fair and balanced way is a matter of ongoing debate, but regardless, all of the "green" parts - the vast majority of people who live normal lives with normal routines, joys and hardships - those are always out of the frame. It's just not in the job description, but like the green parts of Beit Oren, it is nevertheless the living 90%.

I realized that the only way for people to really grasp it is to simply come here and "see the green" for themselves.

Post Wildfire Photos

 

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3 Comments

  1. Hola Shira gracias por compartir esta experiencia. Deseo volver a Israel lo ame desde el primer dia y gracias a ti que me educastes muy bien, eres la mejor de las guias turisticas que he conocido, realmente te extraño.

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