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Shamai et al: Coping of the Residents of Mevo Modiim with the fire event that occurred in May 2019 and its Implications


Michal Shamai, Moshe Frachi and Danielle Ben-Dror


This research examines the implications of the May 2019 fire for the residents of Mevo Modi’im, including loss of resources due to bodily damage, property damage, and economic damage. Additionally, this research describes mental health ramifications (post-trauma symptoms and personal resilience) and community resilience in the context of the fire. Finally, the study assessed the functioning of organizations active during and after the fire, including Israel Fire and Rescue Services, Magen David Adom, and the moatza ezorit (regional government council).


The research is based on a survey of 56 residents (43.7% of the 21-and-over residents that lived in Mevo Modim at the time of the fire), at two points in time, one month and 14-18 months after the fire. The survey included demographic information and questions about exposure of the fire, loss of physical resources, loss of psychological resources, and community resilience. Participants were also asked to assess the functioning of various organizations involved in the response.

Data collection:

Data was collected using a variety of methods, including telephone interviews, email, and survey distribution by town leadership. Data collection occurred one month and 14-18 months after the fire. In addition to the survey, descriptions and thoughts of town residents were written down for analysis. Additionally, in-depth interviews were conducted with two community leaders.

Data Analysis:

Quantitative statistical analysis was used alongside a qualitative thematic analysis.


1. Physical Loss: Most residents of Mevo Modi’im lost their home and/or possessions. Many of the residents stressed that, in addition to the loss of their homes and possessions, they also lost storage sheds and structures used for business. There was little bodily damage, compared with property and economic damage, the latter of which impacted over 60% of residents.

2. Mental Health Impact:

a. Trauma Symptoms:

- A month after the fire, reported trauma symptoms were moderate-severe. This is considered normal until six weeks after the event. However, over a year (14-18 months) after the fire, reported symptoms were under the threshold indicative of mental health injury, indicating high levels of mental resilience among residents.

- Women reported higher levels of trauma than men at both points in time. The level of reported symptoms among women remained moderate-severe even over a year after the event.

- Gender, economic damage and personal resilience were correlated with trauma symptoms one month after the fire. Gender, trauma symptoms one month after the event, bodily harm, and community resilience were correlated with trauma symptoms 14-18 months after the fire.

- Some residents claimed that the moatza ezorit did not offer adequate mental health treatment options for victims.

b. Personal Resilience:

The survey indicated a moderate level of personal resilience among residents at both points in time (2.73 and 2.98 of 4). There were no significant differences in resilience levels between the two points in time or between male and female respondents.

3. Community Resources:

- The perception of community resilience at both points in time was low-moderate (2.78 and 2.87 of 5, accordingly).

- The slight decrease in perceived community resilience between the first and second point in time was not statistically significant.

- Of all sub-measures, feeling of belonging was the highest (moderate-high, at 3.89 and 3.75). The decrease in feeling of belonging at the second point in time was likely due to the fact that the community was spread out across the country for a long period following the fire.

- Women reported stronger perceptions of community resilience than men.

- In the thematic analysis, many of the participations noted the complicated situation of Mevo Modi’im before the fire as follows:

(a). a long-standing dispute with the Israel Land Authority as to the status of the town (moshav or yishuv kehilati), caused several residents to lose property.

(b). the founders, followers of Rabbi Shlomo Carlbach, described as “hippies” didn’t believe in the establishment or know how to effectively utilize government and regional council resources. Findings indicated a gap between the founders and the second generation.

(c). residents had mixed opinions concerning conduct during the fire.

(d). after the fire, the time period in which the community was housed at Chafetz Chaim was perceived as a time of strong community resilience and increased feelings of unity. Afterwards, many respondents noted that the community fell apart.

(e). as residents began returning to Mevo Modi’im, 14+ months after the fire, some participants saw the fire as a “something of a gift” that was given by G-d or Rabbi Carlbach in order to achieve community recognition by government institutions. Alongside the expressed hope, some participants expressed concern that residents lacked the savvy use the circumstances to achieve their desired goals.

4. Assessment of responding organizations:

Israel Fire and Rescue Services: Respondents expressed criticism about the level of preparedness and functioning during the fire. There were no positive assessments of the IFRS among respondents.

Moatza Ezorit (Regional Municipality): Respondents described the initial response of the regional council in positive terms, but described the long-term response and recovery negatively. Many expressed feelings of distance and disconnect between residents and the moatza. Respondents described rejection by the regional council, unprofessional conduct, unfairness, and contempt for residents.

Police: There was criticism of the fact that the case was closed before investigating whether the fires were started in an act of intentional terrorism, as several firefighters claimed. If this claim had been proven, residents would have been entitled to compensation.

Volunteering Organizations: Much appreciation was expressed concerning the work of volunteer organizations. However, some respondents noted that many of the services and aid provided by volunteers should have been provided by the government.

Recommendations for organizations:

The character of the community of Mevo Modi’im has been impacted by prolonged conflicts with the Israel Land Authority, leading to a distrust of both the local and national establishment. These recommendations relate to Mevo Modi’im specifically. Any generalizations should be made cautiously and with sensitivity to the unique characteristics of each locality.

Israel Fire and Rescue Services:

- When preparing for fires in high risk areas, the IFRS should make efforts to become familiar with the character of the town and residents by meeting with the moatza and/or vaad mekomi (town council). Preparations should include the adjustments needed to fit the local culture and population.

- There were many reports that individual firefighters told residents that, based on the nature of the fire, it must have been started intentionally- maybe even as an act of terrorism. However, eventually it was determined to be a natural disaster, which had significant financial implications for residents who experienced loss. This sparked disappointment and distrust among residents. It is recommended that the IFRS instruct individual employees not to discuss hypotheses about a fire during the event.

- A fire that causes significant damage will undoubtedly elicit criticism of the firefighters. It is recommended that the IFRS organize a meeting between residents and firefighters after the event. In this meeting firefighters can explain the challenges faced and the approach taken, including what did and did not work. After this, residents should have a chance to ask questions and express themselves. It is important to prepare the firefighters that, in such a meeting, they will encounter criticism and anger. Such preparation should be done by professionals, such as community social workers and social/organizational psychologists. Additionally, there must be further thought about ways to protect firefighters from potential harm or fallout (such as letters of indictment) from such a meeting. Ultimately, the goal of the meeting should be to benefit residents by providing them with information. Professional information and explanations should reduce the anger of residents and increase their trust in the establishment, which should increase individual resilience and reduce trauma symptoms.


Residents expressed much frustration that the police force closed their investigation into the fire without fully investigating whether it was an act of terrorism. It is important that the police provide the public with better information.


In the case of an event on the scale of the fire that which destroyed Mevo Modi’im, it is critical that a representative of the government (such as the Minister of Internal Security or Welfare Minister) come and listen to the demands and complaints of residents. This can reduce the distrust that residents have of the establishment. Also, the government needs to direct and manage all response and recovery efforts.

Moatza Ezorit:

- In forested regions, like Mevo Modi’im, it is recommended that emergency preparations and implementation of the lessons learned from emergency drills be overseen by the moatza together with the vaad mekomi. Many participants reported problems became apparent while practicing emergency drills, but they were not addressed. The moatza needs to follow through making sure necessary changes are implemented.

- In forested areas, it is recommended to increase the awareness of residents (not just of the local volunteer first-response team) of fire risks, particularly during dry seasons. Additionally, guidelines for how to act during a fire (including whom to inform and what to take from a home) should be publicized. These guidelines should be publicized and practiced during the year until they become second nature for residents.

- When residents are evacuated, if there is enough time, it is recommended to instruct evacuees to take a backpack with a few items, including clothing and items with high sentimental value. Although this may increase stress levels, it will also help residents cope in the immediate and long-term aftermath of a fire.

- The moatza needs to make intensive efforts to help residents recover after a fire until the point of complete, long-term recovery. This should be done in conjunction with the vaad mekomi.

- In the event that most of a community is housed elsewhere for a period, it is optimal to find a housing arrangement that keeps residents geographically close to one another. Scattering residents across the country decreases the feeling of belonging and hurts communal resilience.

- In the immediate aftermath of an emergency, it is important to conduct meetings with communal social workers or experts in communal resilience in order to allow the community to create a communal narrative of the traumatic event. Besides creating unity and a sense of communal belonging, this exercise allows the community to create a common narrative. Additionally, crises tend to amplify feelings of “what isn’t right”, which may lead to decreased personal and communal resilience. Therefore, experts should assist the community in identifying points of resilience in their narrative, in order to draw attention to and amplify feelings of strength.

- It is important that social workers of the moatza meet with every family separately during the first year after the event (and throughout the recovery process). This is particularly important in small town. The goal of these meetings is to convey a sense of care and concern on the part of the government. In these meetings, social workers should assess the needs of families and help the family obtain assistance from various sources. Additionally, these meetings give families a meaningful sense of social support, which can decrease symptoms of post-trauma.

- In the immediate aftermath of a crisis, mental health professionals (psychologist and social workers) should perform an initial assessment of individuals at high risk for developing symptoms of trauma and provide treatment accordingly. This is particularly important given that this study points to the level of post-traumatic symptoms experienced one month after the fire to be correlated with the continued experience of symptoms in the long-term.

- During all emergency preparations the moatza and vaad mekomi should take note of all town residents, including temporary residents and those without local family. There were reports that renters were left feeling rejected and their needs ignored.

- In order to implement the recommendations for the moatza, it is critical to establish a resilience cell that is on-call at all times and can respond immediately. The resilience cell should be made up of professionals who undergo training specific to emergency response and who have an established, on-going relationship with the community.

See here for final report (in Hebrew)