Wildfires in Algeria kill at least 34 and injure hundreds but 80% now extinguished, officials say
ALGIERS, Algeria (AP) — Fires raging through forests, mountain villages and towns in northern Algeria have left at least 34 people dead, with 23 of them in the coastal region of Bejaia, according to authorities and a local radio station keeping track of the grim toll.
The blazes were being drastically curtailed. The Interior Ministry said Tuesday that 80% of the fires, which started Sunday, had been put out, the daily El Watan newspaper reported. A ministry statement quoted by the paper credited uninterrupted mobilization of firefighters, the use of firefighting aircraft and a drop in wind and in temperatures.
Among those killed in hard-hit Bejaia were 10 soldiers encircled by flames during an evacuation, the Defense Ministry reported Monday night.
In neighboring Tunisia, the official TAP news agency reported one death, a school principal who died of asphyxiation from a fire in Nafza, in the northwest. That was one of several areas in Tunisia’s northwest where firefighters battled flames devouring forests and citrus and hazelnut groves as scorching heat made nations on the Mediterranean increasingly vulnerable to wildfires.
Spain’s defense ministry said Tuesday it will send Tunisia two firefighting planes and 27 military personnel, including crews and technicians from the Military Emergency Unit to help combat the wildfires there. That came in response to an EU request.
Strong winds and successive heat waves have fueled vicious fires in Greece and elsewhere around the Mediterranean this summer.
Algeria’s Bejaia — part of the Berber-speaking Kabyle region east of Algiers, the capital — was the hardest-hit area, with 23 deaths since Sunday, the local Soummam Radio reported Tuesday. Counting the deaths from the wind-driven blazes that swept through villages to the seaside, the radio report said that 197 other people were injured in the flames.
In Bouira province, closer to the capital, dead trees and burned brush dotted the hills around the town of Zbarbar, where firefighters moved in to douse scattered blazes on Monday. Some homes were transformed into burned out hovels, a video shot by The Associated Press showed. But firefighters’ efforts were limited. One grey-haired man tossed water from a plastic bottle onto the corrugated roof of what was left of his small damaged home in an effort to dampen it.
The official APS news agency reported Monday night that 34 people had died across several regions, or “wilayas.” Some 8,000 firefighters and 530 trucks, backed by military fire-fighting aircraft, fought the blazes in scorching heat, according to the latest update.
The Algerian Defense Ministry said Monday night that 10 soldiers died in the hardest-hit region of Bejaia. It added that 25 people were injured and evacuated to the closest hospitals.
Wildfires in this North African nation have taken heavy tolls in recent years.
At least 37 people were killed last August after wildfires blazed in the Kabyle region and near Algeria’s northern border with Tunisia. Parts of the mountainous Kabyle region, dotted with villages, are difficult to access.
August blazes in 2021, mainly in Kabyle, killed at least 90 people in the deadliest sequence of fires in recent years, centered in Kabyle. Arson was suspected in some cases, and in one town an angry crowd attacked and burned to death an artist who had traveled from afar to help firefighters. A hysterical crowd accused him of setting fires.
The Algerian online news site TSA quoted the National Meteorological Office as saying that temperatures that soared to around 50 C (122 F) in some of the fire-hit regions were expected to drop starting Tuesday.