Algeria: "Scenes of Devastation" after fires that killed at least 38 people

Algeria: "Scenes of Devastation" after fires that killed at least 38 people

A total of 39 fires have devastated 14 wilayas (departments) over the past few days, and some were still ongoing as of Thursday.

Firefighters in Algeria this Thursday continue to battle wildfires in the north and far east of the country amid “scenes of devastation,” the day after violent fires that killed at least 38 people and injured more than 200.

The death toll increased with 30 dead including 11 children in the area of ​​El Tarf, in the far east of the country, near the border with Tunisia, five in Souk Ahras, two women in Sétif and one person in Guelma, in the east to civil defense and local media, who also reported more than 200 injured.

On the road to El Kala, near El Tarf, a town of 100,000, “a fire tornado swept away everything in seconds, most of the dead were surrounded while visiting a wildlife park,” described a local journalist.

39 fires in the country

The prime minister, Aymen Benabderrahmane, arrived in El Tarf this Thursday morning, according to television. The authorities fear “new outbreaks of fire due to strong winds”.

A total of 39 fires have devastated 14 wilayas (departments) over the past few days, and some were still ongoing as of Thursday. Army and civil defense try to overcome it with water bomber helicopters.

Near Souk Ahras, some 200 km away, a major fire was still raging in a mountainous area. Local media conjured up panicked scenes the day before in this city of 500,000, where 97 women and 17 newborns had to be evacuated from a hospital near a wooded area.

Television footage showed residents running from their burning homes, women carrying children in their arms. More than 350 families had to leave their homes.

The debate about the shortage of water bombers revived

Authorities had chartered a Russian Beriev BE 200 water bomber, but it broke down after responding to various fires and will not be operational again until Saturday, Interior Minister Kamel Beldjoud said Wednesday evening.

Algeria recently canceled a deal to buy seven water bombers from a Spanish company after falling out with Madrid after it reversed it in favor of Morocco’s position on the Western Sahara dossier.

The fires of the past few days have reignited the debate over the lack of water bombers in sufficient numbers, which had rocked the country for the past year. The summer of 2021 was the deadliest since Algeria gained independence, with at least 90 people killed in wildfires that ravaged the north of the country, where more than 100,000 hectares of coppice had gone up in smoke.

During an Algerian-Canadian seminar on fighting forest fires last May, experts “recommended the establishment of a national control system at least equivalent to that of the 1980s,” according to one expert who attended the debates, on condition of anonymity.

At that time, “the DTA (Aerial Work Directorate) had 22 Grumman aircraft, which were the pride of Algeria, especially in fighting forest fires,” added the expert, after which the equipment “sold for the symbolic dinar without one.” alternative solution is offered”.

consequences of climate change

The north of Algeria is ravaged by forest fires every year, but this phenomenon is intensifying from year to year under the influence of climate change, which increases the likelihood of heat waves and droughts, and therefore fires.

In El Tarf, Guelma and Souk Ahras it was around 48 degrees on Wednesday. Since the beginning of August, 106 fires have destroyed 800 hectares of forest and 1,800 hectares of coppice. Algeria, the largest country in Africa, has only 4.1 million hectares of forest with a meager reforestation rate of 1.76%.