JERUSALEM (JTA) -- At least 40 people have been killed in a massive brush fire in northern Israel.
The fire, which broke out Thursday morning in the Carmel Mountains near Haifa, has destroyed thousands of acres of natural forest. Winds and dry conditions helped to send the fire out of control.
Hundreds of people were evacuated from the area, including 500 inmates of the Damon Prison. A bus carrying about 50 prison guard cadets flipped over during the evacuation and was engulfed in flames. Dozens of passengers were killed and wounded, according to reports. At least three people are missing.
Several kibbutzim and villages, including Nir Etzion, Ein Hod, Ein Hid and Beit Oren and the Druze village of Isfiyeh, as well as the Carmel Forest Hotel, were evacuated Thursday afternoon. Haifa University also has been evacuated.
The Israeli army was mobilized to assist in fighting the fire.
Greece and Cyprus have agreed to send helicopters to help control the blaze, according to reports. Israel has turned as well to Italy, Germany and Russia for help.
The fire may have started in an illegal dumping ground, according to reports, though the Israeli Environmental Protection Agency has disputed the claim.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said about the fire, "We have known difficult moments and, naturally, we will need to learn very many lessons in order to deal with disasters of this kind, but right now all of our efforts are directed to saving lives and also watching over the lives of the forces dealing with the disaster. I think that they are acting in an exemplary fashion, as President Shimon Peres has said, with courage, dedication and responsibility."