Saturday, December 4, 2010

Historic 'Firestorm' at Northern Israel Kills 40

JERUSALEM, 3 DECEMBER, 2010: At least 40 people were killed in a historic "firestorm" near Israel's port city of Haifa that broke out early Thursday in the Carmel mountain range overlooking the city, reports China's Xinhua news agency.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu late Thursday asked a few European countries to send firefighting aircraft to help fight the blaze. Ten planes are now on their way from Cyprus, Greece and Spain.

Israel has no such aircraft of it's own by far, according to Xinhua.

The fire broke out early Thursday in the Carmel mountain range, which deteriorated into a huge blaze with thick smoke after several hours, forcing the evacuation of people from schools, houses and the nearby prison.

The spreading smoke and ash "looks like a nuclear mushroom cloud," one local resident told the Ynet news site Thursday afternoon.

Video clips from the scene show white ash covering roads in the area, and fire crews battling numerous brush fires, glimpsed through thick drifting smoke.

So far, at least seven square km of highly flammable pine forests and brush have gone up in flames, foresters told local media.

Some 40 fire crews are battling the spreading flames, as six crop dusters deployed to the area are trying to wet down the area with repeated water drops from above, local media reported earlier in the afternoon.

Fire officials say they don't expect to be able to douse the flames until morning. A major coastal road was closed due to advancing flames at around six p.m. local time (1600 GMT).

Haifa Fire Service spokesman Hezi Levi told Ynet that the wind is making it harder for the firefighters to control the blaze, saying "the wind is confusing the firefighters and making it very difficult for them."

Meanwhile, the investigation into the cause of Israel's forest fire near the port city of Haifa is currently focused on three directions, and the possibility of arson has not been ruled out, Israeli police spokesman Mickey Rosenfeld said Thursday night.

He added that police investigators are also looking into the possibility that an accident may have led to the fire, regarded as the largest and most severe national catastrophe in Israeli history.

There are three major areas ablaze, Israeli TV Channel 2 reported earlier, speculating that the fire may have been set intentionally.

At least 40 people are dead, as a bus full of police and prison guards trying to reach a security prison near the conflagration, lost control and turned over, according to prison service officials. They said the guards were trying to reach the endangered facility in an effort to evacuate the prisoners.

The Damon facility's 500 Palestinian security prisoners were reported to have been safely evacuated.

-- Bernama

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