Israel has experienced an exceptionally hot summer and has had little rain this autumn, allowing blaze to quickly spread

At least 36 people have been killed by a forest fire that is raging out of control in the Carmel Mountains near the northern Israeli city of Haifa, with many others injured, the Israeli rescue service said.

Most or all of those who died had been aboard a bus that was trying to evacuate people from the blaze, the Israeli media said on Thursday.

Some reports said the bus had been carrying prison guards from Damon jail, a nearby prison, where Palestinian detainees are kept. Another report suggested prison guards or a rescue team might have been in the vehicle.

'Difficult incident'

"A bus was caught in the area where the fire was taking place and a number of people were killed," Micky Rosenfeld, a spokesman for Israeli police, said.

Israel Radio said the bus went up in flames, while Channel Two television said the bus may have overturned on the hilly terrain as it tried to flee the fire.

"It's the most difficult incident," Eli Bein, the director of the Magen David Adom paramedic service, said.

Dozens more people were injured in the fire and police ordered hundreds of residents out of their homes as helicopters joined fire trucks in trying to douse the blaze.

Firefighters said homes as well as trees and underbrush had all gone up in flames.

It was not immediately clear what started the huge fire. Israel has experienced unseasonably hot weather for months and it was the driest November in 60 years.

The Israel meteorological service listed the midday temperature in the Haifa area on Thursday as 31 degrees celsius with winds reaching 30 kilometres per hour.

Source: Agencies