Update: 40 dead as prison bus burns. Scroll down.
Update, 12:40 pm Eastern: Complete village burned down. More info. and video added. Scroll down.
Update, 2:15 pm: Three high-ranking emergency personnel missing at fire scene. Scroll down.
Update, 7:30 pm: Additional info., more video added.
ISRAELI FIREFIGHTERS ARE BATTLING a raging wildfire today (Thursday) that was first discovered around 11 am this morning. The wind-whipped blaze in the Carmel Forest has blown up to several square miles already and is directly threatening a town and a high-security prison.
The fire command has informed the police to evacuate the Damon prison and all 500 inmates were re-located temporarily at several local jails. The town of Beit Oren was also evacuated and other nearby towns and resort hotels have been put on alert. Update: A second village, Usafiya has just been evacuated also.
Several roads are cut off now and the authorities alerted Haifa University to be prepared for evacuation if it becomes necessary.
There is a strong easterly wind accelerating the fire, but it is also moving it toward the seacoast where hopefully it will be contained.
YNet News is adding:
A police source told Ynet that detectives were probing a lead saying an illegal dumping ground caused the large blaze in the Carmel forest.
Haifa Mayor Yona Yahav visited the site and said authorities had known of the illegal activity for some time. “It was just a matter of time until a calamity occurred,” he said.
There were 15 fire companies working the fire while dozens more are being called to the incident to assist. Air drops have also been initiated.
UPDATE, 11:30 am Eastern: 40 prison wardens burned alive.
A bus carrying 40 prison guards to Damon Prison to assist in the prisoner evacuation was caught in the fast-moving fire and everyone on board was killed when it overran the bus. The Jerusalem Post reports:
The majority of the 40 people burned to death in a bus caught up in the Carmel forest fires were prison wardens en route to the Damon prison. The wardens were meant to assist in the evacuation of some 500 prisoners from the facility, situated near Kibbutz Beit Oren, when their vehicle became engulfed in fast moving flames which had spread to the narrow mountain road linking Atlit to Kibbutz Bet Oren.
(Firegeezer has not confirmed if this is the same bus. Yeshiva World photo)
A firefighter spokesman said the fire had traveled 1500 meters in less than three minutes, adding, “the bus had no chance. They tried to escape but were burned alive. It was a horrific scene.”
The spokesman added at the fire was very far from the road on which the bus was travelling when it first set off towards the prison, but had spread far faster than expected.
UPDATE #2, 12:40 pm Eastern:
Yeshiva World has just filed this video report showing firefighting:
Since our last update, the following has been reported via Yeshiva World:
- The total (unconfirmed) number of people killed has been placed at 51.
- Heavy response was dispatched to Givat Wolfson (recently) for reports of 20 people trapped in a fire. This is approximately 2 kilometers from Beit Oren where the main fire originated. FD reports that the people have successfully been evacuated.
- A senior police official from Haifa – possibly the Chief of Police – has been killed in the fire.
- The IDF has dispatched “D9 Bulldozers” to Northern Israel to assist firefighters in the huge fire in the forests of Mount Caramel.
- Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu spoke to the leaders of Russia, Italy, Greece and Cyprus and appealed to them for assistance in extinguishing the Carmel fire which broke out on Thursday. Netanyahu asked the countries’ to send fire extinguishing planes into the area in order to help Israel contain the fire.
- Under changing circumstances in the Carmel fire, emergency services have decided to evacuate the following communities: Nir Etzion, Ein Hod and Ein Hod. Fire officials state that this fire may take days to bring under control.
- Sources report that the village of Beit Oran has been totally destroyed.
- Greece tells Israel that they have dispatched fire-fighting aircraft to Northern Israel.
UPDATE #3, 2:15 pm Eastern:
A report has come in that three high-ranking emergency personnel are missing at the scene. Also, reports from the fire zone say that there may be as many as 70 people who have perished so far.
Hundreds of IDF (Israeli Army) troops have been deployed to the fire to assist the firefighting and relief efforts. A military command post has been set up, also. Police are talking to witnesses who state that this fire was intentionally started by someone. Additionally, this fire started in as many as four places (unconfirmed….ed.).
UPDATE #4, 7:30 pm Eastern:
Turkey has sent two firefighting aircraft to assist and Egypt has provided five aircraft. Planes from several other countries will begin arriving during the early morning hours of Friday.
More than 10,000 people have been evacuated from their homes. More people have just now been evacuated from one of Haifa’s neighborhoods as the fire shows potential of being capable of moving into the city.
ITN News filed this video report (in English) that includes good images taken from a helicopter:
So far 59 bodies have been recovered.