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At Least 40 Dead in Israeli Wildfire

Vehicles drive on a road during a wildfire in the Carmel Heights near Haifa, northern Israel, 2 Dec 2010

Israeli officials say a raging forest fire killed at least 40 people Thursday, most of them prison guards on a bus that was engulfed in the flames.

Authorities say the fire erupted in the Carmel mountains area, near the northern city of Haifa and spread quickly due to high winds.

Initial reports said most of the dead were among 50 passengers on a bus evacuating from the nearby Damon Prison. However, later reports from Israel indicate the bus was carrying guards to the prison to help evacuate about 500 inmates when it flipped over and got caught in the flames.

Israeli news reports say the forest fire, among the worst in Israel's history, is burning out of control. Authorities have evacuated several nearby villages.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu says he has sought assistance in fighting the blaze from Russia, Italy, Greece and Cyprus. He called the blaze a "disaster of unprecedented proportions."

Some information for this report was provided by AP, AFP and Reuters.

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