Fires in Algeria: Death toll rises to 38, “scenes of devastation” in north and east

Fires in Algeria: Death toll rises to 38, “scenes of devastation” in north and east

Firefighters in Algeria try to bring the last forest fires in the north and far east of the country under control on Thursday, August 18, 2022 “Scenes of Desolation”the day after fierce fires killed at least 38 people there.

The death toll from the fires of the past few days has risen with 30 dead in the El Tarf area in the far east near the border with Tunisia, five in Souk Ahras, two women in Sétif and one person in Guelma in the east, according to civil defense officials , local journalists and the Ennahar TV station.

In addition, more than 200 people were injured, according to local media. On the road to El Kala, near El Tarf, a town of 100,000 people, “a fire tornado ripped everything away in seconds, most of the dead were surrounded while visiting a zoo”, described a local journalist to AFP.

Of the 39 fires that devastated 14 wilayas (districts) in the north of the country, some were still ongoing as of Thursday, August 18, and authorities fear fires could break out due to gusts of wind.

Army civil defense and water bomber helicopters intervened in several cities.

More and more forest fires due to climate change

Algeria has chartered a Russian Beriev BE 200 water bomber plane, but after responding to various fires it broke down and will not be operational again until Saturday August 20, the health minister said.

Prime Minister Ayman Benabderrahmane arrived in El Tarf on Thursday morning, August 18, according to television. The gendarmerie blocked several national roads because of the fires.

In Souk Ahras, near the Tunisian border, there was still a major fire in the mountainous region of Djebel Oued Chouk on Thursday morning, August 18, according to a local journalist reached by phone by AFP. He spoke of panic scenes on Wednesday, August 17 in this city of 500,000.

According to this journalist, 97 women and 17 newborns who were in a hospital near a forested area had to be evacuated. 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 north of Algeria is ravaged by forest fires every year, but this phenomenon is intensifying every year under the influence of climate change. On Wednesday 17th August it was around 48 degrees in El Tarf, Guelma and Souk Ahras.

The summer of 2021 was Algeria’s deadliest since independence: at least 90 people died in wildfires that ravaged the north, where more than 100,000 hectares of woodland went up in smoke.

Global warming increases the likelihood of heat waves and droughts, and therefore fires.

Missing firefighting equipment?

Since the beginning of August 2022, 106 fires have broken out in Algeria, which have destroyed 800 hectares of forest and 1,800 hectares of coppice, said the interior minister.

These fires ignite sores and the debate over the lack of water bombers in sufficient numbers that had already rocked the country after deadly fires last summer.

At an Algerian-Canadian seminar on fighting forest fires, specialists recommended in May “the establishment of a national control system at least equal to that of the 1980s! », an expert involved in the launch told AFP on condition of anonymity.

At that time, “The DTA (Aerial Work Directorate) had 22 Grumman aircraft, which were the pride of Algeria, especially in the fight against forest fires”, added the expert, according to which the devices “were sold at the symbolic dinar with no alternative solution offered”.

“Some of these fires were set,” said Camel Beldjoud.

Algeria, the largest country in Africa, has only 4.1 million hectares of forest with a meager reforestation rate of 1.76%.

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