The death toll from Israel’s worst ever fire has reached 41 as fire fighting crews and equipment from around the world began arriving to help the nation battle the devastating blaze.
The inferno, which displaced thousands, is still raging through forests in northern Israel and on the outskirts of the country’s third largest city, Haifa. An unprecedented convoy of international assistance poured in after Israel issued a rare cry for help.
Israeli officials said 100 firefighters from Bulgaria have arrived as well as forces from Jordan and Greece. Fire extinguishing planes were on their way from Britain and Cyprus as well as aid from the US, Russia, Egypt, Spain, Azerbaijan, Romania and Turkey – which put aside recent tensions to lend a hand.
Foreign minister Avigdor Lieberman said all international aid was expected to arrive by Friday afternoon. In an interview with Israel Radio, he expressed hope that the fire could be suppressed by Saturday night.
Police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said the death toll had risen to 41, all from a bus of Israeli prison guards that caught fire as it headed to rescue Palestinian inmates at a nearby prison threatened by the massive blaze.
Mr Rosenfeld said 16 people remained in hospital, including the police chief of Haifa who was in critical condition. Three others were seriously wounded.
About 30,000 people were evacuated from their homes and more than 10,000 acres of the Carmel forest in Israel’s Galilee has been burned since the fire started on Thursday, he said.
The Israeli cabinet was set to convene an emergency meeting about the disaster. Prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu called the fire a “disaster of unprecedented proportions”. He was set to inspect fire fighting efforts after the meeting.
Israeli rabbis issued a special prayer for the victims of the fire.
Police also evacuated a university, three prisons and a hospital.