Israel has ordered the evacuation of thousands of people and called up hundreds of military reservists to battle a spreading fire in the northern city of Haifa.

Police said at least eight neighbourhoods had been evacuated by early afternoon, as smoke spread over the city.

At least 17 people were taken to hospital for treatment for smoke inhalation.

Police and firefighters were deployed throughout the city, as people loaded up supermarket trolleys with belongings and fled their homes.

Some people connected hoses together from apartment buildings to help battle the fires, while residents covered their faces with cloths.

The Haifa fire is the largest of several blazes to erupt across the country over the past two days. The fires have quickly spread due to dry weather and heavy winds.

The series of fires is the worst since 2010, when Israel suffered the single deadliest wildfire in its history.

That blaze burned out of control for four days, killed 42 people and was extinguished only after firefighting aircraft arrived from as far away as the United States.

Israel has strengthened its firefighting abilities since then, buying special planes that can drop large quantities of water on affected areas.

Several countries, including Russia, Cyprus, Turkey, Croatia and Greece – were also sending assistance to battle this week’s blazes.

Guy Catlan, who runs a petrol station in Haifa, said that workers turned the power off and were helping firefighters to prevent flames from reaching it.

“There is a very large quantity of fuel here, it is very dangerous to the entire area, it could be a big catastrophe,” he said.

Spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said police were investigating all possible causes for the wildfires, including arson.

Several roads and schools were closed in some areas of Haifa. Mayor Yonah Yahav said there were several fires in his city.

Mr Yahav also said there were indications one of the fires was caused when “someone tossed a cigarette in an area full of oil and flammable fluids” in an industrial zone.

A spokesman for Israel’s fire and rescue service, Yoram Levy, said that firefighters were working around the clock. He said the fires in Haifa “are probably arson”, and that there was an attempt to torch a fire station.

Police said the blazes started early Tuesday at Neve Shalom, a community outside Jerusalem where Israelis and Arabs live together. Fires later erupted elsewhere near Jerusalem and in the northern Israeli area of Zichron Yaakov.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu meanwhile spoke with Russian President Vladimir Putin, thanking him for his help in dealing with the fires.

The premier’s office said that Russia is sending two large firefighting aircraft to Israel.