Desolation in Algeria after the fires that left 38 dead

Firefighters managed this Thursday to control the flames of most of the fires that have ravaged the north and east of Algeria since Wednesday, with a balance of at least 38 dead, more than 200 injured and scenes of desolation.

There were still “16 active fires in 7 wilayas (prefectures) at 4:00 p.m. local time” (17:00 GMT), Colonel Farouk Achour, of civil protection, told AFP.

The fires in the most affected areas of “El Tarf and Souk Ahras” are “under control”, it added.

Thirty people — including 11 children — died in the El Tarf area, five in Souk Ahras, two in Setif and one in Guelma, all of them eastern towns, according to civil protection, local journalists and Ennahar television.

In addition, more than 200 people were injured, according to local media.

Near El Tarf, a city of 100,000 inhabitants, “a fire tornado took everything in a few seconds,” a local journalist told AFP. “Most of the dead were surrounded while visiting an animal park,” he said.

An AFP team confirmed “significant damage to the park, the death of a person who helped others flee” and “12 other people trapped in a bus.”

Prime Minister Ayman Benabderrahmane traveled to El Tarf on Thursday morning, according to television.

In Souk Ahras, 200 kilometers away, a local journalist contacted by AFP spoke of scenes of panic in the city of 500,000 inhabitants.

According to this reporter, 97 women and 17 newborns who were in a hospital near a forest area had to be evacuated.

Television footage showed residents fleeing their burning homes, including mothers with their children in their arms. More than 350 families had to be evacuated from this town.

The Souk Ahras prosecutor’s office announced the arrest of an arsonist in a forest near this city.

In addition, three men were arrested near El Tarf. They are accused of having set fire to a neighbor’s agricultural crops, but authorities did not indicate whether they may have started the fires of the last two days.

– Thermometers at 48 ºC –

Every year, the north of Algeria is affected by forest fires, a phenomenon that is accentuated under the effect of climate change. On Wednesday, in towns such as El Tarf, Guelma or Souk Ahras temperatures reached 48 ºC.

The summer of 2021 has so far been the deadliest in the country. At least 90 people died last year in the forest fires that devastated the north of the country, where more than 100,000 hectares of forest disappeared.

Global warming increases the probability of heat waves and droughts and, in turn, fires.

Since the beginning of August, 106 fires have broken out in Algeria, destroying 800 hectares of forest and 1,800 hectares of undergrowth.

These latest fires revive the debate that already stirred Algerian public opinion last summer about the insufficiency of planes to deal with the flames.

The situation seems to have worsened after the confrontation between Algeria and Spain over Western Sahara, in which Algiers supports the Saharawi independence fighters while Madrid changed its position to support Morocco’s autonomy plan.

According to the Mena Defense site, the Algerian authorities canceled a contract with the Spanish company Plysa, a specialized subsidiary of the Air Nostrum airline, for the supply of seven amphibious aircraft.

After the cancellation of the contract, no plan B has been foreseen to replace all the Spanish planes, according to various media.

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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