The worst forest fire in Israeli
history killed 40 prison guards as they travelled in a bus that became trapped
by racing flames in an attempt to leave a forest, officials said.
Dozens of other people were
reportedly injured as the fire continued to burn out of control in Carmel
Forest in northern Israel. In a televised address, Prime Minister Benjamin
Netanyahu called the fire a “catastrophe the likes of which we have never
He vowed to use all the
government’s means to combat the flames and called upon the international
community to assist by dispatching fire fighting airplanes.
Hundreds of fire fighters and
emergency workers from all parts of Israel rushed to the north to assist in
evacuating people and battling the fire.
The guards were in the process of
evacuating Damon prison, near the Druze town of Usfiya, prison officials said.
About 500 prisoners from the facility, mostly Palestinians and foreigners, had
been relocated earlier to other prisons as the fire approached.
Officials said the bus was trapped
by wind-swept flames.
Witnesses said dozens of victims
lay down on the bus floor, unable to escape as fire fighters struggled to reach
“We saw the bus catch fire,”
one fire fighter told Israeli news site Ynet.”Dozens of victims were burned. It
was very, very shocking.”
The fire also destroyed several
buildings in the village of Beit Oren, which had been evacuated earlier.
Several other nearby villages, hotels and the Haifa University campus were also
evacuated. An estimated 7,000 acres of forest land had been destroyed by
Investigators suspect the fire
might have been started at an illegal dumping site, local media reported.
Israel has a history
of combating forest fires, but they usually burn without reaching populated areas
and cause few causalities.