Wildfire in Israel kills 40

wildfire in israel
Ultra-Orthodox Jewish men observe the fire that killed at least 40 people in Israel on Thursday.

UPDATED @ 4:00 p.m. MT, December 2, 2010

A fire in Israel has killed about 40 people.

From Reuters:

A massive brushfire, the worst in Israel’s history, raged unchecked for more than eight hours Thursday, burning thousands of acres of land, forcing villages to evacuate, and killing up to 40 people when their bus was engulfed in flames. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu described the blaze as “a catastrophe, the likes of which we have not yet known”.

He appealed to Russia, Cyprus, Greece and Italy for help in putting out the fire, which began on the slopes of the Carmel hill, southeast of Israel’s port city of Haifa, and rapidly spread.

Cyprus and Greece agreed to dispatch firefighting helicopters.

Some nine hours after the blaze was estimated to have begun exhausted firefighters, those from Haifa reinforced by teams from all over Israel, and by soldiers, were still struggling to bring it under control, but without success.

“We’ve lost control of the fire,” a spokesman for Haifa’s firefighting services was quoted as saying.

Public Security Minister Yitzhak Aharonovich said it was impossible to say when the fire could be brought under control. However, firefighters were speculated that as the fire spread west a major road linking Haifa with Tel Aviv to the south could act as a natural firebreak, or, failing that, the sea would.

At least 22 people were confirmed dead, but other accounts put the number as high as 40.

The fatalities were prison guards who had been drafted to help evacuate the 500 prisoners from a jail in the path of the flames. Their bus, with 50 people on board, was trapped by a falling tree and 40 of them burned to death. The others were injured.

The fire had been far from the road when the bus first set off, but spread about 1,500 metres in less than three minutes.

This video is not in English, but the pictures tell much of the story.

Thanks Joe, Pierre, Brian, & Dick

Author: Bill Gabbert

After working full time in wildland fire for 33 years, Bill Gabbert now writes about it from the Black Hills.

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2 thoughts on “Wildfire in Israel kills 40”

  1. When I lived in Israel, my friends and I used to hike in these forests. Really beautiful places.

    The guys who died in that bus were corrections officers who were on their way to help evacuate a prison threatened by brush fire. The car behind that bus had police officers and firefighters; Haifa’s police chief was there, she received extensive burns and is in critical condition.
    Israeli fire service if understaffed and underfunded. Many of their engines are old, I’m talking decades… Israeli firefighters have been warning people for years that eventually because of the budget cuts they won’t be able to stop a disaster. Maybe now someone will listen.

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