Reflections from JDC Youth Volunteer Coordinator in the Fire Zone

Tomer Ilan, age 24, is the coordinator of JDC’s AMEN youth volunteer program in his hometown of Haifa, where he also volunteers with Fire Fighters in Israel. Through AMEN, some 60,000 youth in dozens of cities throughout Israel give more than 4 million hours a year of volunteer service to their communities.

Tomer describes the past 24 hours:

On Thursday at around 12:30 pm, I heard about the fire outbreak. I left my office, contacted Fire Fighters in Israel, and ran to the fire zone to the Beit Oren junction near Druze Village of Osafiya. AMEN is a partner of Fire Fighters in Israel in the local area to train local youth in first aid. Tragically, one 17-year-old volunteer wanted to help so badly that he went on his own initiative and was consumed by flames….

At 9 pm, I was released from first-aid role and began coordinating JDC AMEN youth volunteers in Haifa. Many of our volunteers called wanting to help in any way possible, but there was no role for them at that moment in the midst of the firefighting efforts.

The area filled with such a blanket of thick black smoke that the shift from afternoon to evening to night was not even noticeable. People described the heavy smoke as if it were a ‘nuclear mushroom cloud.’ The harsh smells of burning forest are mixed with the white smoke arising from where the firefighters are working and dousing the flames.

The tense situation brought me back to the days of the Second Lebanon War in 2006 when there were no cars on the streets and people were stuck in their homes. There is total silence in the area. But my sense is that there was no mass panic. There is a sense that things are under control, that the fire fighters are working strategically and in a coordinated fashion to battle the blaze.

There is much concern about the fire that broke out in several places in other heavily populated areas around Haifa – Nesher, Neve Yosef, etc. – I can see some of these flames from my own porch.

My concern is that people have not yet begun to understand the magnitude of what has happened.

courtesy The American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee