Late November. Strong dry winds have been blowing outside for several days around the Carmel ridge in Haifa. No rain for almost six months now. Land and vegetation are extremely dry. Forest fires are in the headlines, but they are far away. It is a casual day, doing some work from home. I am checking a news website and I discover that… a fire is raging not far from where I live. I inform some friends, take a camera, and walk five minutes to a hilly area with a good viewpoint near Fliman Geriatric Center.
For almost two hours I am there, trying to digest what I see. Pine trees become torches one by one. Houses catching fire in Givat Oranim neighborhood.
Fliman employees hold fire hoses spraying the forest below, trying to block the fire from climbing up to the geriatric center. It is a terribly magnificent sight.
If the fire reaches the center, my street is doomed as well, and the building where I live is shadowed by many pine trees, some of them dead and extremely dry.
I rush home and decide to prepare for evacuation. Luckily I still have time to pack. Others are already not so lucky. I don’t have much time nor many bags. Everything that’s important must fit into these three backpacks.
What should I take with me? What are the most important objects in my life that I should not lose? Try to think about it, it’s an interesting life exercise…
Eventually I reach a conclusion – most of the important things are already on hard disks, some are made from paper or magnetic tapes and should have already been on hard disks, and a few of my favorite 3D works such as architectural models should have been placed in my parents’ museum-like living room.
Just before I call my friend Omri to pick me up (I don’t have a car for six years already, and enjoy every minute of it), I rush again to the Fliman view point, just to thank the amazing Israeli pilots dropping fire retardants and the Greek pilots dropping sea water, doing their best to save Fliman center and my neighborhood.
Only two days later I edit and publish the fire day video
Thanks to a remarkable work of fire fighters, security forces, and aerial firefighting units, nobody was hurt in the fire. Gratitude should also be given to residents who defended their yards and homes with basic means, providing initial response.
The morning starts in Denia neighborhood, with the sound of the Greek airplanes still pouring sea water on affected areas. Fire trucks are on standby near the western Carmel slopes forest.
This morning we embark on the first field survey to examine the fire affected areas.
We start with a view from Goldman St, where a forested hill was turned into ash. Ramat Sapir is in the background.
We then continue to lower areas, to Ramat Ben Gurion neighborhood (“New Romema”), that was severely affected by the fire. This kid came all the way from Hadar neighborhood, wearing a gas mask, reluctant to inhale the results…
A row of burned cars welcome us on Oren St.
Ironically, burned cars leave remarkable remains
This used to be a City of Haifa coat of arms
We continue to the Wadi south of Givat Oranim neighborhood, the one I watched from the hill during the fire. It is oriented east-west, and the east winds blew here at 60 kilometers per hour, with 90 kilometers per hour gusts. No wonder the fire was raging, swallowing trees and apartments. The tranquility now is unbelievable considering the inferno that was here yesterday.
We climb up to Givat Oranim. This area absorbed the fire intensity.
The plastic pot is gone.
The fire visited this house from the outside
Luckily, only minor damage inside. Even the painting is safe
Up on the hill apartments burned down when fire penetrated roofs made of shingles with wooden framing. Some visitors are in awe
others are safeguarding the apartments, as residents are not allowed to return to the neighborhood yet.
We then move to the Ahuza neighborhood, where a religious rooftop kindergarten was destroyed by the fire.
Luckily, the community leader decided earlier that day to send the kids home when the smoke started.
We conclude the first survey observing Wadi Ahuza, on the western Carmel slopes.
It seems that the beautiful wadi, one of Haifa’s wilder urban nature areas, was severely burned.
Just before I head out to visit family and friends outside of Haifa for the weekend, we thank Palestinian fire fighters from Tulkarm who came to assist.
The first week after the Haifa Fire starts. Today I wish to visit Haifa Trail areas affected by the fire. It will be a walking day and I start not far from where I live – a few streets above – in the long stretch of forest between Einstein and Hantke streets. It is one of my favorite green areas of Haifa, and part of Haifa Trail’s 10th section. This is what it looked like before the fire:
And this is how it looks now:
Fire sparks coming from the east with the strong winds ignited trees and vegetation, affecting inner buildings of Einstein Street.
I visit the building where my friends Ora and Boaz live with their three children. Their older son ran away from the apartment while stuff around him was burning. Luckily he made it safely to the street. Their apartment survived, but their next door neighbors were not so lucky. The darkness of a burned house is deep and infinite.
Nevertheless, “Haaretz” newspaper delivery person probably thought that business should be as usual, no matter what.
The building’s concrete roof is, for some stupid reason, covered with corrugated asbestos sheets. Following the fire they are now disintegrating and extremely dangerous.
I quickly leave the scene, only to meet Shlomo Stieglitz, resident of one of the buildings, who tells me how he bravely protected his yard and building using water buckets, a garden hose and some fire extinguishers.
Shlomo calls me. “Look!” – he says – “My dog found a hedgehog”. Poor pure creature.
From Horev Center I continue along the Wadi parallel to Pika St. Pine trees, already a synonym to Haifa’s landscape, cover buildings with green canopies. They are volatile though, and those on private properties sometimes grow wild. Without proper protection to apartments, such as fire proof shutters and concrete roofs, sparks from flaming pines easily penetrate an apartment.
Trees trunks in the Wadi became chess boards
and some would say that this abandoned pub in the middle of the forest, that has been operating illegally for years, is better like that
I pass the entrance to Ramot Ben Gurion – New Romema – neighborhood
and keep going on Pika St, where workers are already cutting and removing the burned vegetation
A roof with wood framing surrendered to the fire
After I saw horrifying photos of this tall building burning, I was happy to find out that the surrounding trees were burning, leaving the building intact. There’s something very intimidating about raging flames, but eventually their damage to property seems to have been limited.
“Long live the king”
I am now about to visit part of section 5 of Haifa Trail – Wadi Remez. Its slopes caught fire, threatening buildings above.
The damage to the wadi vegetation is not severe
and hopefully nature will renew soon
Last assignment for today is walking through Wadi Ahuza, part of Haifa Trail’s section 11. I’m standing at the upper part of the wadi, in another building saved by its tenants using garden hoses. But nobody was there to save the wadi, nor any fire extinguishing infrastructure.
This is the updated view of Wadi Ahuza slopes
and the lovely spring pond, now silent and dead
trying to remember better days
I am drowning in deep ash, evidence of the extreme blaze
The heat was so intense – this rock disintegrated
I have to get used to the updated panorama of Wadi Ahuza.
I then crawl through a long drainage pipe under Freud-Fliman road down towards the beach
With black palms from a long, sad, exploration day
Heading to the beach to relax and end the day with an optimistic view
The fire affected 500 meters in section 5 of Haifa Trail (Wadi Remez), 850 meters in section 10 (the stretch of forest), and 1300 meters in section 11 (Wadi Ahuza). In total, about 3.7% of the trail.
I’m busy writing an article with suggested plan for fire prevention, warning, protection and handling in a unique place like Haifa, where people, trees and buildings live together. I need some more field impressions and continue exploring.
This morning, kindergarten children also explore the fire aftermath in Eder Street
Other people sadly watch workers remove burned trees
This is how the damaged building in Eder St. look like from the other side. In this area, turbulent winds carried the fire into this small forested area
I return to the view point near Fliman geriatric center. The skies are blue, the smoke and flames are gone, and some shades of gray and yellow are now part of the landscape. Soon, Zemer hill below will be covered by apartment buildings. Most of the trees that survived the fire will be replaced by concrete.
I return to Givat Oranim. From the circle between Buber and Dakar streets, a view towards the Zemer hill reveals colorful patches.
Here’s yet another example of people saving their house – look at the wooden pergola – it is safe and sound, while the balcony below suffered fire damage.
But the damage to apartments, porches and yards in Givat Oranim is clearly visible.
Sometimes the difference between black and green was a matter of chance
And the dogs, keep enjoying their time, calmly as most of Haifa’s residents
I am surprised to meet a wadi I was not familiar with – the vegetation here was so dense, that it could not be seen from the adjacent Dakar St.
Look at what had been hidden here for years – that’s definitely not a contemporary car model
Outside the wadi, a kaleidoscope of colors is left, for sparks of hope.
The forest on the northern slopes of Givat Oranim
Under a damaged building – surviving trees
a pair of palm trees
a new model of street lights
some communication cables
and the beautiful green area near Romema student dorms, intact
The article is now published (Hebrew), hopefully triggering an interdisciplinary process of “Making Haifa Green Again”, by developing creative means to protect it from the trees that make it so unique.
The rains will come soon, a sign for nature to revive.
I conclude with a map of the burned areas, just to give you some scale. The burned area is not large in absolute numbers, but each burned pocket was a unique urban nature area, highly significant ecologically.