36 out of the 40 victims were IPS cadets, most of them Druze, who were in their 20's. They were being transported on a bus after assisting in the evacuation of the Damon Prison. At a certain point the fire began spreading at great speed – covering a mile in five minutes, according to a firefighting officer – and the bus was caught in the flames with no chance of getting out.
The names of seven of the cadets were released early on Friday morning:
Topaz Even Chen Klein (29) from Rechovot
Maor Ganon (29) from Gan Yavne
Kfit Ohana (30) from Ofakim
Siyum Tzagi (31) from Netivot
Yakir Swissa (28) from Dimona
Hagai Jorno (28) from Kiryat Gat
Oshrat Pinto (26) from Tzfat
Their funerals will take place on Friday.
Two policemen, a volunteer firefighter and another man were killed in the blaze as well. Among the people who were injured in the blaze is Lt.-Col. Ahuva Tomer, Commander of Haifa Police, who is in serious condition in Rambam Hospital after suffering burns. She was filmed for Israel TV just a short while earlier while setting out to help oversee the forces dealing with the blaze and its effects.
Early on Friday morning it was confirmed that the process of notifying the families of the victims has been completed. Concurrently, the process of identifying bodies continues at the Institute of Forensic Medicine at Abu Kabir.
This is the largest and deadliest fire since Israel's founding in 1948, and possibly also the worst terror attack in its history, if suspicion of arson is confirmed. Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu said Thursday evening that the fire on the Carmel range is "a disaster of a scope that we are not familiar with."
Minister of Public Security Yitzchak Aharonovich said Thursday evening that the fire is under “currently under control,” but Fire Services Spokesman Hezi Levy said the opposite. The fire, he said, is out of control and is raging in three major locations: the Druze village of Usefiya, Beit Oren, and Nir Etzion.
Residents of religious kibbutz Nir Etzion, the Ein Hod artists' village and the nearby Arab village Ein Hud have been instructed to leave their homes, after it was determined that the fire might reach the communities.
The residents of Kibbutz Beit Oren and Usefiyeh were evacuated earlier in the day, as were the students of Haifa University, which is somewhat further away. Several homes in Usefiya have been burnt to the ground. Haifa University has been closed down until further notice.
The Brosh neighborhood in Tirat HaCarmel and a mental health hospital in Tirat HaCarmel were also evacuated. Early on Friday morning, several streets in the Haifa neighborhood of Denia were also evacuated due to concerns that the flames would reach the neighborhood.
A resident of Beit Oren told Channel 2 news that several homes in the kibbutz burned down. Firefighters' spokesman Levy called Beit Oren "the former kibbutz of Beit Oren" in an evening interview, and said most of the homes in the comnmunity had been damaged.
Channel 2 reporter Yossi Mizrachi said that the way in which the fire spread indicated that the blaze erupted from three locations simultaneously -- making arson a likely possibility.
The fire broke out around 10:00 AM this morning in an illegal garbage dump in the Carmel Mountains.
Ongoing rescue and fire-fighting efforts are said to be nearly impossible given the physical conditions of the mountains, smoke, dry conditions and winds.
The trapped bus is said to have departed from the Damon Prison, apparently as part of the attempt to evacuate the prison in the face of the fast-spreading fire.
The Damon jail mostly holds Arabs who were caught illegally entering Israel from the Palestinian Authority. According to IDF Radio, however, the bus was "not a prisoner bus."
Northern fire: More than 15,000 residents evacuated, flames near Haifa
Mass evacuation on, Haifa under threat: More than 15,000 people were evacuated from their homes by late Thursday as a massive fire continued to rage in northern Israel.
The fire was spreading early Friday, with flames reaching the entrance to the Druze village of Isfiya as well as an IDF prison evacuated earlier. Firefighting teams were battling the blaze at both sites. The fire also reached the northern town of Tirat Carmel, whose residents were evacuated earlier. Police officials asked residents not to return to their homes at this time.
Thursday night, officials in Haifa, Israel's third largest city, ordered the evacuation of many streets in the Denia neighborhood. Mayor Yona Yahav said that some 2,500 people were evacuated from their homes and sent to stay at shelters elsewhere in the city. He added that initially winds were pushing the flames towards the neighborhood but later changed direction, pushing the blaze southward.
Earlier in the evening, some 5,000 residents in Tirat Carmel were ordered to leave home and thousands of others were evacuated from various northern communities. Two prisons and a psychiatric hospital were also evacuated for fear the flames would reach them.
Northern blaze coverage on Ynetnews:
- America to the rescue
- Identification of bodies underway
- Paramedic: I saw dozens of bodies
- Massive fire claims 40 lives
- Netanyahu to declare day of mourning
- Haifa police chief gravely hurt in blaza
- World comes to Israel's aid
- Prison Service shocked by tragedy
At least 40 Prison Service officer course cadets were killed in the fire earlier Thursday after their bus burned down en route to an evacuation mission in Damon Prison. Several other people were injured in the blaze, including Haifa Police Chief Ahuva Tomer, who was gravely hurt.
The Interior Ministry's casualty information center has been reopened for the first time since the Second Lebanon War to collect all the information on blaze victims.
Speaking earlier in the evening, Israel's firefighting chief, Shimon Romach said he was not optimistic about the prospects of containing the fire at this time.
"I'm hoping that with our effort tonight and tomorrow we'd be able to contain the fire, yet the wind is making it difficult for us and it's expected to grow stronger by early morning. Hence, I cannot paint an optimistic picture at this time," he said.
'It was a scary scene'
The upper neighborhoods in Tirat Carmel were almost completely evacuated by Thursday night with many residents heading to their relatives or moving to the lower neighborhoods in town.
Albert Schatz is one of the locals forced to leave their home. He told Ynet that around 7:30 pm residents in his area were ordered to evacuate the area, and 15 minutes later he was already out the door.
"I packed a small bag, my wallet, ID, a few pictures and other important things. I quickly took my wife and kid to our relatives, living in the lower neighborhoods," he said. "The fire was spreading massively. One moment we saw it at the edge of the mountain and the next moment it was already making its way downhill. We realized we had no choice but to leave."
Schatz said he has no idea what happened to his house.
"We can't go up there. It was a scary scene. I've lived here for 20 years and we've encountered a few fires before, but never a fire this size" he said. "It was amazing - within 30 minutes almost half the forest was in flames."
Immigrant Absorption Ministry Director General Dimitry Apartsev, who arrived at Tirat Carmel, said: "This is an emergency and we're here to help. The minister wanted to come here immediately, but we just calmed her down and told her there's no need. We bought with us Russian and Amharic speakers to help the police and security forces communicate with residents who are new immigrants. I just spoke with the mayor and told him we'll do anything we can to help."
'Driver lost control of bus'
The evacuation of Damon Prison ended in tragedy, after 40 cadets in a Prison Service officers course were burned to death in a flaming bus sent to help in the prison's evacuation. Apart from the 40 victims, several firemen and three police officers who drove a police car behind the bus were also injured.
Internal Security Minister Yitzhak Aharonovitch visited the site of the massive fire which broke out in the Carmel on Thursday, the largest in Israel's history, and provided the media with details on the circumstances of the tragedy.
"With great care I say this to you: the passengers on the bus apparently strayed off the lane when it was clear and the fire caught up with them. Apparently the driver lost control of the bus and was hurt and burned."
Aharonovitch sent his condolences to the victims' families. "We are dealing with a mass-casualty event. There are some missing people who have yet to be located – two to three."
Haifa firefighter teams made a desparate plea to all fire brigades in Israel to help contain the fire. "The war on the Carmel is the war on the State of Israel," Reshef Levy from Haifa said. "The work will last days. These are crazy fire sites."
The Haifa Municipality said that all Chanukah events scheduled for the weekend were canceled in light of the tragedy.