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Wild Fires Devastate Vegetation and Forest Areas

by Sarina Roffé

Every summer, Americans see the damage from wildfires in woodlands, fields, forests and national parks. Usually these wildfires come in the summer, after prolonged periods of drought, and last until the fall, when the potential for fire increases dramatically.

Jewish National Fund (JNF) has gained an international reputation for its admirable work with trees and forests during the past century. JNF foresters have intervened to fight massive fires in Israel's forests. Israel has contributed invaluable know-how and advice, particularly in managing fires in the pine and scrub oak forests of the Southwest.

"We take Israel's depth of experience and apply it to our situation," said Tom Hoeskstra of the U.S. Forest Service. "Their experience in handling forest fire situations in arid environments has been of tremendous benefit."

The devastation that vegetation suffers from wildfires is evident for decades after the fire ravages forest. Wildfires often spread to surrounding communities, destroying forests, but also private homes, businesses and property.

For example, visitors to Yellowstone National Park can see the devastation caused by wildfires that affected thousands of acres of trees when they visit the park. The Los Angeles area is having its worst drought in 50 years and there have been prolonged droughts this year in the Southwest as well.

"Current conditions across the United States are ripe for a devastating fire season. Droughts in southern California, the Southwest and even on the East Coast have been leading to fires as we are seeing now in Denver," according to Kennith Foster, President of the International Arid Lands Consortium (IALC), a partnership of the Desert Research Institute, five American universities, Jewish National Fund, Egypt and Jordan.

Firefighters risk their lives every day fighting fires near Denver, Colorado, an area currently experiencing large-scale wildfires. And the Northeast, devastated by a severe drought this past winter, is at risk for wildfires in its forest areas.

"With the expansion of urban areas into forested land combined with environmental changes, we will continue to see larger fires cause more damage and threaten more lives," said Fisher.

"This is why IALC's research in land management is so crucial. We need to expand programs to thin forests and use controlled burns to eliminate potential fuel. We need to protect our watersheds to help prevent catastrophic losses of life and property," he continued.

According to Dale Bosworth, Chief of the U.S. Forest Service: "The world-class professionalism and determination of JNF foresters is second to none." In fact, in a unique relationship with the U. S. Forest Service, Israeli foresters come to the United States each summer to take forestry courses in watershed management, natural resources administration and protected areas management.

IALC researchers at the University of Arizona, New Mexico State University South Dakota State University, University of Illinois and Texas A & M concentrate on ecological sustainability, which is important to manage the land and minimize danger.

JNF advises residents to avoid the risk of wildfires in woodlands, fields and parks. Be aware that periods of unusually low precipitation increase the likelihood of severe wildfires. If your region is experiencing a dry season, especially with high winds, exercise extra caution when in contact with any flammable materials.

For more information

To reduce the risk of fires caused by humans, state and federal agencies may issue restrictions on public use. Some areas may close until the fire danger decreases. Before planning a trip to a National Forest, National Park, or other public lands, call the toll-free Fire Restrictions Hotline at 1-877-864-6985, or click on

International Arid Lands Consortium

On the line of fire: The men and women who battle America's wildland blazes

Forest Fire and Prescription Burning
Check here for sites that give information on wildfire and the sciences associated with fighting forest fires and managing a prescription burn.


Jewish National Fund Tips for Minimizing Wild Fires

Protecting property in areas prone to wildfires

Clear and maintain a fire break around your home by clearing the fuel that a fire needs. Clear weeds, dry brush and trees within a 50-100 foot buffer zone. In case of fire, this will allow the heat to dissipate before it reaches the building as well as eliminating fuel for the fire. This space can also provide a safe area for firefighters and their equipment, should they be needed.
Consider maintaining a large non-potable water storage tank that could be used in an emergency, but check local regulations to make sure this is legal in your area.
Dead and dry grasses should be cleaned up, dead branches trimmed off trees and the landscaping plants should receive adequate water.
Piles of firewood and other debris should be moved away from the house.
Trees should be pruned and spaced widely apart.
Establish fuel breaks along roadways and between buildings and fields or woodlands.
Extinguish smoking materials properly. Put out cigarettes, cigars or pipes only in cleared areas free of vegetation or debris.
Stone walls act as heat shields to deflect flames.
Swimming pools and patios can be safety zones.
Use tile, stucco, metal siding, brick, concrete block, rock, or other fire-resistant materials on roofs.
Use only thick, tempered safety glass in large windows and sliding glass doors.
Install electrical lines underground, if possible.
Regularly clean roofs and gutters.
Keep handy household items that can be used as fire tools such as a rake, axe, chain saw, bucket, and shovels.
Have several garden hoses long enough to reach any area of the home and surrounding vegetation.
Remove ladder fuels, young trees and shrubs planted close to larger trees that could carry a ground fire into the tops of large trees.
Mow grasses to a height of less than 6 inches within 50 feet of the home.
Wood shake shingle roofs are highly flammable. Convert roof to Class A fire resistant materials such as fiberglass-asphalt, metal and tile.
Construct decks and siding with non-combustible materials.
Screen openings under decks and attic and foundation vents.
Check with local nurseries to learn about fire resistant landscaping.
Put out cigarettes, cigars, or pipes only in cleared areas free of vegetation or debris.
Cut all branches below six feet from the ground to prevent fires from spreading into the tree tops.
Remove all tree limbs within 10 feet of your chimney or stove pipe.
Store firewood and other combustible materials like picnic tables at least 30 feet away from your house and other structures and clear a space of at least ten feet around them.
Post your address along the road at the driveway entrance as well as on the home. Numbers should be at least four inches tall and mounted on a high-contrast, non-combustible background material.
Install a smoke detector on each level of your home, especially near bedrooms. Test them monthly and change the batteries at least once a year.
Consider installing automatic fire sprinklers.
Know at least two ways out of your ground level floor, preferably at opposite ends of the building, and out of each room on all levels.

Working in the outdoors: Backyard burning, landscaping, woodcutting

Postpone outdoor burning if your area is experiencing dry conditions.
Check with the local fire department to determine if a ban on outdoor burning has been imposed.
Have hand tools, water and enough people on hand to keep the fire in check when doing outdoor burning.
Before starting a backyard fire, place a firebreak around the perimeter of the fire area. Fires can escape easily if a wind picks up.
Do not burn in windy conditions.
Lawn and farm equipment should have properly working spark arresters to prevent sparks from exiting through the exhaust pipes.
Keep mufflers and spark arresters on agricultural equipment in proper working order and watch out for rocks and metal when bush hogging or mowing.
Monitor hay-baling operations closely; dry hay can ignite within the baler.
Watch out for sparks when using welding equipment to build fences or repair equipment.
Burn trash is a burn barrel or other fire-safe receptacle covered with wire mesh or grid that will help contain burning debris.
Stay with your fire until it is out.
Make sure spark arrestors are in good operating condition on all-terrain vehicles, trail bikes and chain saws when used near grass or combustible vegetation. This screen fits between the exhaust port of the piston and the muffler and helps ensure that sparks generated by vehicles and equipment don't start wildfires.
Refrain from welding and all use of spark-creating machines when the fire danger is high.
Follow forest restrictions and closures; chainsaws may not be allowed if the fire danger is extreme.

Passing through: Driving in outdoor areas

Parking in tall grass or shrubs can start fires because the hot catalytic converter comes into contact with dry plant materials. Don't park where vegetation is touching the underside of your vehicle. Motorcycles and ATVs should have spark arresters.
Do not discard smoking materials from vehicles, use interior ashtrays.
Be aware of smoking restrictions in Forests, National Parks, BLM, and other public lands. Smoking may be restricted to inside vehicles or in paved parking areas.
All Terrain Vehicles (ATVs) produce an enormous amount of heat and can ignite brush from their exhaust systems. Don't park your car, truck, or recreational vehicle on dry grass or brush even for a minute. The exhaust system on a vehicle can reach a temperature of more than 1,000 degrees. It only takes 500 degrees to start a wildfire in the fire season.

If a Wildfire is Burning Near Your Home

Stay calm. Call 911 to report a fire.
Cover all eave and roof vents.
Cover large picture windows with plywood.
Close all windows and doors; open drapes.
Evacuate to a safe location.

Playing in the outdoors: campfires and other recreational fire hazards

Find out about fire conditions before you visit an area and strictly observe any restrictions that may be in effect. In many areas, all wood and charcoal fires may be prohibited, but gas or propane camp stoves are allowed. Other areas allow campfires only in established campgrounds with fire grills or pits. A few areas have banned all ignition sources, including camp stoves.
When camping, select your campsite carefully. Avoid fragile environments; use existing clear areas; and return any displaced leaf litter or branches after use.
Use fuel stoves where dry wood is scarce.
Use only fallen wood
Before building a campfire, prepare the area by removing all leaves, twigs and other flammable material within ten feet of your campfire.
Use an established fire pit or make a ring of rocks at least ten feet from trees, shrubs, structures and debris.
Keep fire suppression tools such as a shovel and a bucket of water on hand in case your campfire starts to get out of control.
Don't leave a campfire unattended.
Be certain your campfire is completely extinguished before you go to bed or leave the area.
Pour water on the fire and douse the site thoroughly. Stir water and dirt into the coals with a shovel or stick until there are no embers and the ashes are cold to the touch.
Make sure the fire is "dead out" before you leave.
Fireworks are not allowed anywhere on National and State Forests, National Park and on other public lands.


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