Clouds of heavy smoke over the city of Jerusalem. (Shalev Shalom/TPS) Shalev Shalom/TPS
Massive wildfire outside of Jerusalem

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The Tinshemet drone’s cameras work in tandem with another camera perched atop a 10-meter high mast.

By Pesach Benson, TPS

As forest fires become an increasingly global concern, a special drone protectively hovering over Israeli forests may be the solution. The Tinshemet drone — Hebrew for barn owl — has a thermal imaging system that is not only providing early warning for Israeli fighters, it is proving useful in other unexpected ways.

“We call it the ‘Tinshemet’ [Hebrew for barn owl] because it sees every little thing happening in the area accurately from above,” explains Haim Teperberg, Enforcement Manager for the Keren Kayemet LeIsrael-Jewish National Fund (KKL-JNF) to the Tazpit Press Service.

The KKL-JNF is a non-profit organization that specializes in the developing Israeli land, especially planting trees.

“Today, the Tinshemet monitors forests throughout the entire land of Israel,” day and night, he explained.

Forest fires around the world have been a rising challenge in recent years. An annual report on forest fires released on October 31 by the European Commission’s Joint Research Centre found that 5,500 square km of land inside the European Union was burnt in 2021, making it the second-worst year for fires since officials began tracking the data. Italy was the most devastated country, accounting for one-quarter of the EU’s burnt areas.

2022 has not been kinder in the US. According to the National Interagency Fire Center, the US support center for wildland firefighting, 61,390 wildfires have burned 7,251,835 acres this year. The NIFC stresses that this year is already above the 10-year average of 6,859,200 burnt acres.

Even when relatively smaller fires are expensive to fight. Forest fires in the Jerusalem Hills in August 2021 destroyed 25,000 dunams (more than 6,100 acres) and cost Israeli taxpayers 34 million shekels ($9.9 million). JNF officials said afterwards that it would take the woodlands 25-40 years to recover.

Forest fires are usually caused by unattended campfires, the burning of debris, sparks caused by mechanical malfunctions, lightning strikes, carelessly discarded cigarettes and deliberate arson.

The Tinshemet’s cameras work in tandem with another camera perched atop a 10-meter high mast. Both have thermal imaging capabilities that spot sources of heat that are hotter than the surrounding area. According to Teperberg, the system can even detect the lighting of a cigarette several kilometers away.

Thanks to the Tinshemet’s technology, JNF personnel “are able to scan lands tens of kilometers away and prevent illegal dumping, unauthorized border crossings for land that is situated on Israel’s borders, vandalism, arson and even naturally occurring forest fires,” Teperberg said. “As a result, KKL-JNF’s technology and enforcers staff and have become an important element for various environmental bodies.”

The technology has proven useful in other areas beyond forestry, including, “missing persons, forest rescue operations and antiquities thefts in open areas. We have already had cases where we caught antiquities robbers,” Teperberg noted.

He added that, “to the best of my knowledge, several American companies have showed interest and even purchased the system from the Israeli manufacturer.

“Thanks to the Tinshemet, many disasters that could easily open newscasts are avoided, primarily extreme forest fires. In the future, the system will be even more developed. With this type of technology, KKL-JNF continues to lead the fight against climate crisis. As large forest fires gear up across the world, it is promising to see KKL-JNF working to enhance their monitoring and life-saving capabilities.”

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