'40 die' in Israel forest fire

'40 die' in Israel forest fire

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Smoke from a wildfire rises to the sky as seen from the northern Israeli community of Kiriyat Bialik, near Haifa (AP)

Around 40 people have died when a bus burst into flames as it raced to an Israeli prison during a massive forest fire.

The victims were mainly prison guards participating in the rescue mission, officials said. It was one of the deadliest accidents in the nation’s history.

Fire officials said the blaze, which torched some 800 acres, remained out of control as nightfall arrived.

“This is a disaster of unprecedented proportions,” prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu said.

He said the government was using all means at its disposal to contain the blaze, and he appealed to Cyprus, Italy, Russia and Greece to provide backup.

Fire commissioner Shimon Romach told Israel Radio that the country didn’t have enough planes or helicopters, and that the available aircraft had trouble working at night.

The fire in the northern Carmel region broke out around midday, prompting authorities to clear the area of hundreds of residents, as well as Palestinian inmates from the Damun prison.

A bus headed to the prison went up in flames. TV footage showed the charred skeleton of the bus, with several bodies lying on the ground. No inmates were reported injured.

Yaron Zamir, a spokesman for the national prison service, said the men were guards but did not work at the prison. Instead, they had raced from central Israel to assist in the rescue.

He called it a “difficult, sad and incomprehensible day.”

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