Fire on Castel by Gayla Goodman

Fire on the Castel

In the summer of 1995 Israel experienced its worst fire ever. Ten minutes to the west of Jerusalem, sky-high flames bordered both sides of the Tel Aviv-Jerusalem highway. With strong winds in extremely hot temperatures, the fire raged out of control for most of the day. Firefighters were called in from every corner of the country and residents of nearby communities were evacuated. I was listening to news reports as the winds were blowing the flames closer to my home. When ashes fluttered onto my patio, I began the list of what to pack in our car with one hand and with my other, I called my insurance agent to update our fire coverage. By nightfall, the fire was under control but 4,000 acres of trees had been destroyed and many homes were burned.

Forests in Danger

The trees had been planted by the Jewish National Fund, which has planted in excess of 240 million trees in Israel since 1901. But every summer those trees are in danger as firefighters try to protect them from some 1,000 fires. Following the devastating 2010 Carmel Forest fire that burned forests and took precious lives, the Ministry of Public Security developed “Matash,” which firefighters around the country are using to predict fire direction.

Building a Model

The unique Matash system takes the guesswork out of how current weather conditions will react with a forest fire. When firefighters arrive at the scene of a fire, they call in their exact location. Workers at Matash, located in Rishon LeZion, coordinate the weather forecast, infrastructure and topography with Google Earth and Google Maps. Taking wind direction and strength, topography and existing flammable materials into account, they build a model illustrating how the fire will spread. Combining the 2D data with the 3D model gives fire fighters a clear picture of where the fire is heading and how to get it under control. That initial report covers the first hour of the blaze and afterwards, the data is updated every six hours.

The system proved itself effective this past summer when firefighters used Matash to contain large fires near the Jerusalem corridor.  Under the newly created National Fire Authority, the system is available to all environmental agencies and rescue teams in the country.