Forty Dead in Israel Forest Fire

In Asia, Drought & Fires, News Headlines

At least 40 people have been killed and dozens injured in a huge forest fire in Israel.

Most if not all of those killed were in a bus carrying prison guards on their way to evacuate a jail in the path of the bushfire.

Witnesses say the bus became trapped in the inferno, rolling over and going up in flames.

Charred bodies were strewn on the ground.

Some reports suggest the death toll could still go higher and many more people are injured.

The fire began in forest on the Carmel mountains near Israel’s northern city of Haifa.

It quickly spread out of control forcing emergency authorities to evacuate small towns.

Homes have been burnt and a kibbutz destroyed.

Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu has described it as an unprecedented disaster.

He has appealed for help from nearby countries to fight the fire, which by nightfall was still out of control.

Scores of fire fighters are still battling the flames.

Israel is in the midst of a drought, with barely any rain and continuing high temperatures since last spring.

No protection

Witnesses have reported gruesome scenes.

Fireman Dudu Vanunu told Channel Two television he saw flames consume the bus believed to be carrying the prison guards.

“Anyone who’s ever seen a firestorm will know. They could not survive it, they had no protection, they just fell to the road and burned alive,” he said.

The Zaka organisation, which specialises in recovering human remains in accordance with Jewish religious law, put out a call for all its volunteers to report to the area.

Police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld says about 20 families from the Arab village of Ussafiya were evacuated from their homes as flames swept through the pine forest covering the Carmel hill ridge, one of Israel’s most popular beauty spots.

Yoram Levy, a spokesman for the Israeli Fire and Rescue Commission, said emergency workers had evacuated the nearby Beit Oren Kibbutz and a luxury hotel in the path of the fire.

“It’s one of the biggest fires we’ve ever had. In 1998 we had one like this, but not since then,” he said.

At 4:30pm local time Mr Levy said the blaze was still burning out of control.

“It’s not getting better, and it’s getting dark,” he said.

He said about 100 firefighters were tackling the flames, including some of the Israeli military, and helicopters and other aircraft were spraying the fire with water from the air.

Witnesses reported fire services from throughout Israel were rushing to the scene.

The radio reported that 40 fire engines and six aircraft were seeking to control the flames.

After a long, dry summer Israel is experiencing an unusually warm and dry autumn.

The Israel Meteorological Service listed the midday temperature in the Haifa area on Thursday as 31 degrees Celsius with winds reaching 30 kilometres per hour.

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