At least 34 people, including ten soldiers, died in violent fires overnight in northeastern Algeria from Sunday to Monday, according to a new report released by the Interior Ministry on Monday evening.
An earlier report said 15 people died and 26 were injured following the fire that affected about fifteen wilayas (prefectures) in the northeast of the country.
The defense ministry said the soldiers, along with residents of neighboring villages, were engulfed in flames as they were evacuated from Beni Xila in the eastern province of Bejaya.
Fierce fires resumed Monday in the border region of Tabarka in the northwest of neighboring Tunisia, near an area already devastated by flames the previous week. An AFP team was able to observe significant damage near Nefsa, 150 km west of Tunis, after helicopters and Canadian water bombers intervened.
“Around 300 residents of Mellula village evacuated by sea” Strong wind speeds were a precaution against fanning the fire, according to Tunisian National Guard spokesman Houshem Edin Jebabli, who also noted several departures by land.
“They were transferred to reception centers in Tabarka or stayed with relatives.”Moez Triaa, spokesman for the civil defense, told AFP.
Between Sunday and Monday, 97 fires were reported in 16 provinces in Algeria, but the most violent fires affected Bejaia,
Bouira and Jijel, the Ministry of Interior pointed out in a press release.
Driven by very strong winds, they reached residential areas in the three provinces, where 1,500 people threatened by the fire were evacuated, the ministry said.
Local media images showed burning fields and wooded areas, charred cars and charred shop fronts in villages completely destroyed by the fire.
Algeria is facing a severe heat wave in some affected areas, with Monday’s temperature peaking at 48 degrees, helping to dry out vegetation and making it more vulnerable to fire outbreaks. The temperature in Tunisia reached 49 degrees.
Algerian President Abdelmadjid Tebboune sent his condolences to the families, noting that “civilians are victims” but “soldiers”.
About 8,000 civil defense agents and 525 trucks were hard at work in 11 wilayas on Monday evening, where the fire, which has destroyed forests, bushes and fields, was still progressing, officials said.
Recently chartered fire-fighting aircraft and helicopters and a BE 200 high-capacity bomber intervened on the fire rather than water.
The Home Ministry has called on citizens to “avoid affected areas and use toll-free telephone numbers to report any fire incidents”.
According to a press release, Bejaya’s public prosecutor ordered the opening of preliminary investigations to determine the causes of the fire and identify possible culprits.
Every summer, the northern and eastern regions of Algeria are hit by forest, maquis and crop fires, a phenomenon that is increasing annually under the effects of climate change, leading to droughts and heat waves.
In August 2022, 37 people were killed in a devastating fire in El Darf in the northeast.
The summer of 2021 was the deadliest in decades: more than 90 people died in devastating fires in the north, especially in Kabylia.
Officials have called for people to mobilize as summer approaches.
In late April, President Debon ordered the acquisition of six medium-sized water bombers. Pending their arrival, the Ministry of Interior announced in May the immediate purchase of one water bomber and the rental of six others in South America.
Authorities have set up helipads in 10 wilayahs (prefectures) and mobilized indigenous drones for surveillance and firefighting.
Algeria placed an order with Russia for four water bombers, but their delivery was delayed “due to the consequences of the crisis in Ukraine” after Russia invaded the country.