Northern Israel was in a state of emergency as the worst ever fire in the country's history incinerated a bus carrying dozens of members of the Israel Prisons Service, killing everyone on board, destroying thousands upon thousands of dunams of forests on the Carmel Mountain ridge and injuring dozens.

By early Friday afternoon, fire had spread to new areas in the Carmel despite the efforts of firefighters who were aided by the first foreign firefighting aircraft which arrived to help control the blaze.

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Firefighters were battling flames on several fronts, including Na'aman Junction, Chai Bar, the entrance to the village of Usfiya, and the area between Usfiya and Dalia. A new fire was reported near the Kiryat Bialik industrial center, north of Haifa. Fire crews are on the scene attempting to keep the flames from industrial structures in the area.

Fire spread to the area west of Usfiya, though flames were low, Haifa firefighters said. Flames were centering 300 meters from the Ya'arot hotel in the Carmel.

At Nir Etzion the blaze was out of control, approaching homes and endangering citizens who returned to their homes and ignored police instructions. Police were forced to evacuate citizens using force.

Firefighters were on the ground at all locations and  receiving aerial assistance in dousing the flames.

Eight foreign planes, three helicopters, three firetrucks, and over 150 foreign firefighters have arrived in Israel so far, with more expected.

The parts of routes 2 and 4 leading to that region of the country were closed, effectively closing off all major approaches to the North. Route 2 was subsequently reopened to traffic.

A blaze in Kiryat Tivon is now under control, Public Security Minister Yitzhak Aharonovitch said Friday.

Aharonovitch added that Haifa's Denya area is safe and that fire has been pushed back from the area

"We are not sending fire crews into the forests, this is too dangerous. The focus is on planes. We have Israeli and foreign planes dousing the flames, and we need more planes," said Aharonovitch.

Police issued the following instructions to members of the public: Those residing in homes near the smoke are asked close their windows. In case members of the public are asked to evacuate, they are asked to shut off all gas mains, and close windows and screens to prevent fire from spreading.

Those evacuated are asked not to return to their homes until receiving instructions to do so. Members of the public should continue to listen to emergency services for ensured safety.

Firefighters gained control of flames threatening residential areas of Tirat Hacarmel on Friday, preventing the blaze from causing serious damage to homes, fire officials reported.

According to Jewish National Fund officials, over 20,000 dunams have been consumed and around 13,000 residents have been evacuated from their homes as a result of the blaze which has been spreading due to strong eastern winds.

Forty-two people have lost their lives in the blaze, according to Army Radio, including 36 Israel Prison Service members, two police officers and a volunteer firefighter. Three people remained in critical condition at Rambam Hospital in Haifa.

Additional number for information for affected families: 08 977-5717

Hotline for immigrants living in the North who might be in need of assistance: 1255081010

Police ask all volunteers not to approach fire zones. Volunteers should call Lev Ehad on 02 675 5150 for instructions, or 02 675 5185

Yaakov Katz and Tovah Lazaroff contributed to this report.

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