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Algeria battles raging wildfires that have killed 34

By AFP - Jul 25,2023 - Last updated at Jul 25,2023

Firefighters attempt to extinguish a raging forest fire near the town of Melloula in north-western Tunisia close to the border with Algeria on Monday (AFP photo)

ALGIERS — Algerian firefighters were on Tuesday battling blazes that have killed 34 people across the tinder-dry north, destroyed homes and coastal resorts and turned vast forest areas into blackened wastelands.

Witnesses described fleeing walls of flames that raged "like a blowtorch" as TV footage showed charred cars, burnt-out shops and smouldering fields and scrubland.

Severe fires have raged through the mountain forests of the Kabylia region on the Mediterranean coast, fanned by winds amid blistering summer heat that peaked at 48 degrees Celsius on Monday.

President Abdelmadjid Tebboune sent his condolences to the families of those killed — among them 10 soldiers trapped by flames at Beni Ksila, in Bejaia province, according to the defence ministry.

“I have nowhere to go now — my house and that of my son have been completely destroyed by flames,” said a tearful elderly woman who lost her daughter-in-law and granddaughter, speaking on TV from Ait Oussalah.

Authorities reported progress in fighting back the almost 100 fires reported in recent days, having mobilised more than 8,000 civil defence personnel, over 500 fire trucks and multiple chartered aircraft.

Out of 97 fires, most had been brought under control but 13 were ongoing by Tuesday afternoon, the interior ministry said as temperatures dropped somewhat and winds eased.

The public prosecutor of Bejaia ordered an investigation into the causes of the fires and possible perpetrators.

An unknown number of people suffered injuries from burns to smoke inhalation, and more then 1,500 were evacuated as the fires hit 15 provinces, especially Bejaia, Bouira and Jijel.

 

Climate change 

and drought 

 

Much of the water-scarce northern African region has been hit by serious drought, severe summer heat and regular wildfires, a trend expected to worsen as climate change intensifies.

Serious fires have also raged in recent days in neighbouring Tunisia, especially the northwestern Tabarka region.

An AFP team there witnessed significant damage and saw helicopters and Canadair water bombers in action.

More than 300 people were evacuated from the coastal village of Melloula by boat and overland.

Firefighters were still battling flames Tuesday in three areas in the northwest, Bizerte, Siliana and Beja.

Northern and eastern Algeria battle forest fires every summer.

In August last year, 37 people were killed by fires in the northeastern El Tarf region, a year after 90 died, mostly in Kabylia.

To prepare for this year’s fire season, Algerian authorities deployed observation drones and created multiple helicopter landing sites.

The government in May announced the purchase of a large water bomber aircraft and the rental of six others from South America.

Algeria also placed an order with Russia for four water bombers, but reported that their delivery was delayed by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Local media reflected anger about the latest deadly fires, with the TSA news site asking, “in view of all these measures, why couldn’t we avoid the disaster?”

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