Disaster in the North: 40 Dead as Fire Rages in Carmel Mountains

Forty dead and 13,000 evacuated - Netanyahu appeals for international aid as blaze swamps Israel's emergency capacity and threatens city of Haifa; prison guards killed when fallen tree traps bus in flames.

Forty people were killed on Thursday as a huge brushfire continued to rage across the Carmel Mountains in northern Israel, killing and injuring dozens, among them prison guards and firemen.

Some 13,000 people were evacuated from their homes in the north and Israel called for international aid as the fire blazed out of control, fanned by easterly winds following a month of near record temperatures for the time of year. 

By midnight on Thursday, evacuation operations had spread to Denya, an affluent neighborhood on the edge of Haifa, as the flames threatened Israel's third-largest city.

"We lost all control of the fire," said the Haifa firefighting services spokesman late Thursday. "There aren't enough firefighting resources in Israel in order to put out the fire," he said.

By the early hourse of Friday morning, emergency services had recovered 35 bodies, of which 22 had been identified, according to television reports.

Most of the dead from the blaze were students on the Prison Service's guards' course on their way to the Damon jail to help evacuate inmates there.

When a fallen tree blocked a road, their bus was trapped in the flames, killing 40 of 50 passengers. Seven surviviors were left in critical condition and evacuated to Haifa hospitals.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu hurried to the scene Thursday evening,calling the fire a "disaster on an international scale." Israel had requested international aid to deal with the blaze, which was out of control, he said.

"We do not have what it takes to put out the fire, but help is on the way. As a result of calls I have made, there are currently ten aircraft on their way to Israel from Greece, France and Cyprus," Netanyahu said.

Despite tense relations with Israel Turkey also offered to aid the firefight.

"This is a difficult hour, and we will need to learn lessons for the future, but at this moment, our only thoughts are to save lives and protect the forces that are dealing with this catastrophe," Netanyahu said. "I believe they are doing an outstanding job."

Haifa's police chief, Deputy Commander Ahuva Tomer, was also critically hurt in the fire.

Haifa mayor Yonah Yahav said earlier Thursday that "the flames have spread on a scale we've never seen." Magen David Adom Director General Eli Bin defined the fire as "the worst disaster in Israel's history."

View Northern Israel Fire in a larger map

President Shimon Peres said: "Today, our hearts are in Haifa, with the firefighters that with incredible courage are battling the flames; some of them have even been injured, along with residents of the area."

He said: "We are praying for a miracle. We are praying for their safety. We are praying for the fire to end."

The villages of Isfiyeh and Beit Oron were evacuated in the early afternoon, as were the neighboring Carmel Forest Hotel and Carmel Farm.

fire - Hagai Frid - December 2 2010
Hagai Frid