Bangalore: Six people were killed and a dozen injured Wednesday when a bus caught fire near a town in central Karnataka and fell into a ditch, police said.

The bus with 29 passengers was going from Davangere to Bangalore when the tragedy took place near Hiriyur around 3 am, Superintendent of Police Ravi Kumar told IANS.

Speaking from Davangere, 260 km from Bangalore, he said 23 of the injured passengers escaped by jumping out of the burning bus.

But escape became difficult because the bus toppled after rolling into the ditch, toppling on one side.

Five of the injured were warded in state-run hospitals at Chitradurga and Davangere as their condition was critical due to excessive burns.

"Charred bodies of six victims have been sent to Bangalore for DNA tests to identify them and their gender though they appear to be males," Kumar said.

The bus driver, Feroz, 35, has been arrested.

According to a survivor, the fire started in the front portion and the flames quickly enveloped the non-AC sleeper bus even as the terrified driver tried to stop it at high speed.

"The fire spread quickly inside the bus trapping the victims. Most passengers were asleep when the fire broke out," Kumar said.

"They panicked as the bus fell into a ditch and toppled on one side, making escape difficult in darkness," Kumar said.

The latest disaster comes five to six months after two similar fire incidents in private buses claimed over 50 lives.

Nearly 45 passengers died Oct 30 when a private Volvo AC bus from Bangalore caught fire near Mahabubnagar, about 100 km from Hyderabad.

In the second incident Nov 13, seven passengers were burnt to death when another private Volvo bus from Mumbai caught fire at Haveri, about 330 km from Bangalore.