Algeria: 11 more outbreaks, most fires extinguished

Firefighters in Algeria continued their efforts on Tuesday evening to contain 11 fires that have ravaged the country’s northeast, most of which have killed at least 34 people in three days.

On Tuesday morning the Interior Ministry assured, “Civil Defense was able to extinguish most of the fire, ie 80%.”

Civil Protection said in the afternoon that 11 houses were left in seven wilayahs (provinces) in the north and east.

Local media images showed fires in fields and bush, burnt cars and shops reduced to ashes. Eyewitnesses described that the consuming tongues of fire suddenly began to erupt “like a blowtorch”.

In Taudja, in the country’s northeast, where 16 people died, the fires were almost completely brought under control, despite a few frequent outbreaks, an AFP journalist told AFP.

For two days, fire fighting planes dropped water on this wooded area on the coast of the Mediterranean Sea in Vilaia, Bejaia.

Airborne firefighting resources and better weather conditions helped extinguish the blaze as temperatures dropped to 48 degrees on Monday.

– Drought and heat waves –

Every summer, the north and east of Algeria are hit by wildfires, a phenomenon that increases from year to year under the influence of climate change, causing drought and heat waves.

In neighboring Tunisia, more than 300 residents of Meloula, near Tabarka in the northwest, had to be evacuated on Monday because of a fire. Other fires in Bizerte, Siliana, Beja and Cemmama were on their way to being extinguished on Tuesday, according to Civil Protection.

In the past three days, 97 fires have affected more than 15 provinces in Algeria, especially Bouïra, Jijel and Bejaia, which have already been hit by fires for the past two years, killing 130 people.

Ten soldiers died after their unit was engulfed in flames during the evacuation, including residents, from Beni Xilla near Bejaia.

According to Radio Soummam, more than 80 people, including 25 soldiers, were injured in the fire, which is still in the Bejaiya area.

– Whirlwind of Fire –

More than 1,500 people were moved to safety as the firestorm reached their homes. Coastal resorts have been destroyed.

A French tourist said he had taken refuge with his family on a cliff, near his hotel in Tigremet, west of Bejaia, before being pulled from a boat by a resident along with the other victims.

The affected villages, many of which are located in the mountainous region of Kabyli, are heavily forested and have been experiencing an intense heat wave for several weeks, which has dried up vegetation, making it vulnerable to minor outbreaks of fire.

“I have nowhere to go now. My house and my son’s house have been completely destroyed by the flames”, testified a seventy-year-old woman crying after losing her daughter-in-law and granddaughter in Ait Aussalah near Bejaiya.

More than 8,000 Civil Defense agents and 525 trucks were deployed as well as water bombers and helicopters.

The public prosecutor of Bejaia ordered the opening of a preliminary investigation to determine the cause of the fire. Five arrests were announced in Bouira and Skikda.

In August 2022, a massive fire killed 37 people in the El Taraf region in the northeast. The summer of 2021 was the deadliest in decades: more than 90 people died in the north, especially in Kabyli.

However, to avoid such tragedies, the authorities began mobilization in the spring by purchasing water bombers, including six hired in South America.

He also set up helicopter landing sites in 10 provinces and mobilized drones for fire prevention.

“Given all these measures, why couldn’t we avoid the disaster?” On Tuesday, the TSA news site asked, “Who is stopping Canadair from taking over in sufficient numbers”, why “villages at the edge of the forest are not adequately protected”, “Who is responsible for deforestation” and “What are the responsibilities of residents and local officials”.

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