At least 46 people, including 12 children, were burned to death after a bus caught fire on a highway south of the Bulgarian capital.

The site of the accident, on the Struma highway near the village of Bosnek, is cut off.
The site of the accident, on the Struma highway near the village of Bosnek, is cut off. (DIMITAR KYOSEMARLIEV / AFP)

At least 45 people have been killed when a bus with North Macedonian plates caught fire on a highway in western Bulgaria. 

The accident took place south of capital Sofia early on Tuesday, the head of the fire safety and civil protection department at the interior ministry, Nikolai Nikolov, told private BTV television.

"At least 45 people were killed after a bus caught fire and crashed, or crashed and then caught fire," Nikolov said.

There were children among the victims, and seven people with burns were rushed to hospital in the capital Sofia, Nikolov, said.

The cause of the accident has yet to be determined but officials believe a fire broke out on board and the bus crashed into guardrails.

The bus was travelling from Turkey's main city of Istanbul to Skopje in North Macedonia after a tourist trip. It was one of four traveling together.

The bus with North Macedonian plates caught fire on a highway, near the village of Bosnek, Bulgaria.
The bus with North Macedonian plates caught fire on a highway, near the village of Bosnek, Bulgaria. (Reuters)

'A great tragedy'

The site of the accident, on the Struma highway near the village of Bosnekis cut off.

"Of the victims... 12 in total were under the age of 18," national police chief Stanimir Stanev said.

"The driver died immediately so there was no one able to open the doors," he added. He told bTV television that 45 of the 52 people on the bus were killed.

Survivors "jumped out of the windows", said Maya Arguirova, head of the treatment centre for severe burns where they were transported.

"It is great tragedy... 12 (victims) are under 18 years old, and the rest are young people about 20 to 30 years old. Most of them are our citizens, but there are (some) from Serbia too," North Macedonian Prime Minister Zoran Zaev said.

But police chief Stanev said while the two drivers of the bus were Macedonian, the passengers were Albanian.

"Initial information shows that 52 people were travelling in the bus, including two drivers with Macedonian nationality and 50 passengers with Albanian nationality," he said.

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Source: TRTWorld and agencies