What is being described as the worst fire in Israel's history raged out of control in northern Israel Thursday, cutting a giant swath of deadly destruction through an area known as "little Switzerland."
At least 40 prison security officers were killed when the bus they were traveling on veered off the road and burst into flames. The officers were on their way to help evacuate a prison in the area.
More than 1,500 people have been evacuated so far, according to police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld. Television news outlets report 5,000 people have been evacuated.
Haifa's police commander Ahuva Tomer was also caught in the fire and critically injured.
The fire, which started about 11 a.m., swept through one of the most beautiful areas in Israel - the Carmel region. It was on Mt. Carmel where the prophet Elijah challenged the prophets of Baal.
The fire is currently burning just outside Haifa, Israel's third largest city.
"At this hour a terrible fire is ravaging Mt. Carmel; there are many casualties," Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said as he visited the site.
"We are mobilizing all of our forces to deal with this disaster, to rescue the injured and to stop the fire. This is an unprecedented disaster," Netanyahu said.
The fire destroyed 8,000 acres of trees and an entire community Beit Oren within the first 11 hours. Television images showed raging flames and burned out vehicles.
Two more prisons were also going to be evacuated. The University of Haifa voluntarily evacuated its students.
Firefighters were called in from around the country to help fight the blazes. Doctors and psychologists were also being called to the area to help, reports said.
Rosenfeld told CBN News that there is a "strong possibility" that the fire was started by arson. He said there was a lot of coordination between various Israeli services. He said Israel would see what happens in the next 24 hours.
Israel is experiencing one of the worst droughts in its history. That coupled with a strong wind also fanned the flames.
Netanyahu requested international help and spoke with Cyprus President Demetris Christofias and Greek Prime Minister George A. Papandreou. Cyprus agreed to send it's only firefighting helicopter to help fight the fire and Greece and Spain also reportedly were sending air fire fighting support.
"We have known difficult moments and, naturally, we will need to learn very many lessons in order to deal with disasters of this kind," Netanyahu said. "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," he said.