Death toll rises to 41 as brush fire rages on in northern Israel

Death toll rises to 41 as brush fire rages on in northern Israel

03 Dezember 2010

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Israel —  The death toll from Israel’s worst ever brush fire rose to 41 on Friday, authorities said, as firefighters from Britain, Greece, and Cyprus joined in to fight the flames.

The fire broke out on Thursday afternoon across the Carmel mountains and most of the casualties were from a bus evacuating prison guards near Haifa in northern Israel. In addition, dozens more were injured including police officers and firefighters.

The bus was en route to Damon prison in order to assist in the evacuation of about 600 prisoners when the vehicle flipped over and became engulfed in flames from the forest fire.

Most of the deceased burned to death and all of them were prison wardens. “The bus had no chance. They tried to escape but were burned alive. It was a horrific scene,” said a spokesman for the local fire department. “The fire was very far from the road on which the bus was traveling when it first set off towards the prison, but spread far faster than expected.”

The flames has already engulfed thousands of acres of the Carmel forest between the Haifa University and Ussafiya. The university had to be evacuated to avoid further fatalities. Police forces described the situation as a major disaster and added that they do not believe the fire will be controlled in the coming days.

The fire is continuing to spread and is endangering many areas and police forces urged citizens to stay clear of the area, while more than 15,000 people have already been evacuated. The affected region has heavy brush that burns easily and is spreading due to the strong winds.

On Friday morning, five planes from Greece carrying staff and equipment, a plane and helicopter from Cyprus, and a Bulgarian plane carrying approximately 100 fire fighters landed at the Ramat David Air Force Base. The Bulgarian firefighters later deployed at an IDF Home Front Command base, from which they will leave for their designated missions led by Israeli firefighters.

A substantial number of IDF forces is operating in the area, including infantry soldiers, navy sailors, search and rescue teams, cranes, vehicles, bulldozers, IDF fire trucks, and other equipment. Israeli Air Force aircraft assist in illuminating the area in order to assist the teams extinguishing the blaze, paramedics and doctors are treating those who were injured and teams of the IDF Personnel Directorate and Medical Corps are helping identify those who died in the fire.

“We are in a very harsh event,” said Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the Security Cabinet Meeting regarding the fire. “We have over 40 dead. People are missing; people are injured. Many of these people perished in admirable courage and sacrificed themselves in order to save others,” he said.

Netanyahu said the international community was quick to respond to offer assistance. “We have also received aid and very generous offers of assistance from Egypt, Azerbaijan, Spain, Croatia, France and Jordan,” he said. “I think that this symbolizes the unprecedented response to my appeal, to our appeal, for international assistance. This is important to the State of Israel in every respect, especially that of putting out the fires.”

Earlier on Friday, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton offered the U.S. government’s condolences to the families of those who died in the fire. “The people of the United States know all too well the devastation caused by wildfires, and we are fully committed to assisting Israel during this tragedy,” Clinton said.

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