North Africa: Fires Kill At Least 34 in Algeria As Fears Grow They Will Spread to Tunisia

(file photo).

Wildfires raging across Algeria have killed more than 34 people in less than 24 hours, and forced mass evacuations, according to the government. The worst hit parts of the country are in the northeast, while there is also concern that the fires may spread to neighbouring Tunisia.

Temperatures rose to 48 degrees Celsius in parts of Algeria on Monday, with 97 blazes recorded across 16 provinces, fanned by strong winds.

The fires have already killed at least 34 people, the interior ministry said, revising an earlier estimate of 15 dead.

President Abdelmadjid Tebboune offered his condolences to the families of the deceased, on Monday.

At least 26 other people were also said to be injured by mid-afternoon Monday, while some 1,500 people were evacuated from the provinces of Bouira, Bejaia and Jijel, in Kabylie, east of the capital Algiers.

Wildfires raging across Algeria during a blistering heatwave have killed more than 30 people and forced mass evacuations, the government said AFP News Agency (@AFP) July 24, 2023

In the northeastern province of Tizi Ouzou, 15 fires were also extinguished late on Sunday, according to civil protection officials.

On heartbreaking scenes duplicated at many locations around the world this summer, people are fleeing massive wildfires. This one is in Algeria. #ClimateEmergency Randall Gates (@rgatess) July 24, 2023

Images shared by local media and on social media showed fields and forests blazing as well as charred vehicles and storefronts destroyed by the flames.

🔵L'ADE de Bejaia continue de mobiliser ses camions citernes pour aider dans l'opération d'extinction des feux de forêts déclenchés au niveau de la wilaya.🔴 Leurs camions citernes sont toujours prêts à intervenir en cas d'urgence et aider la protection civile ainsi que les... TAMAZGHA / ⵜⴰⵎⴰᛯⵖⴰ (@Tamazgha_) July 24, 2023

Extreme weather and climate change

The three provinces in Algeria's Mediterranean coastal region have seen the worst of the fires, but others have also ben touched as the whole country experiences an extreme heatwave.

The interior ministry said that 7,500 firefighters and 350 firetrucks had been mobilised along with aerial support to fight the flames.

"Civil protection services remain mobilised until the fires are completely extinguished," the ministry said.

The Bejaia prosecutor's office has ordered a preliminary probe to identify the causes of the blazes and potential perpetrators.

Fires regularly rage through forests and fields in Algeria in summer, but this year they have been exacerbated by a heatwave that has seen several Mediterranean countries break temperature records.

45 degrees in the Northwest of Tunisia and the fires are decimating the forests between Algeria and Tunisia, reaching the city of Tabarka and villages in the area. #Tunisia Myriam At (@MyriamAt) July 24, 2023

In August 2022, massive blazes killed 37 in Algeria's northeastern El Tarf province.

The deadliest summer in decades occurred in 2021, with 90 people killed in such fires, particularly in the Kabylie region.

To avoid a repeat of previous years' death tolls, the authorities had announced a series of measures in the months leading up to peak summer heat, including the acquisition of medium-sized water-bombing aircrafts, and the construction of landing strips for helicopters and fire-fighting drones.

Scientists rank the Mediterranean region as a climate-change "hot spot".

The United Nations' Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) warned of more heatwaves, crop failures, droughts, rising seas and influxes of invasive species.

Tunisia at risk

In neighbouring Tunisia, fires also raged on Monday in a pine forest, near the border with Algeria, after a blaze in the area last week.

Tunisia's state energy supplier STEG announced half-hour to one-hour power cuts in an effort to ensure electricity supplies.

At least 300 people were evacuated by sea and by land from the village of Melloula, according to the national guard.

Temperatures on Monday neared 50 degrees Celsius.

During last week's fire, a border crossing had to close temporarily, as 470 hectares (1,100 acres) of forest caught fire.

Wildfires from Algeria reach Tunisia's border city of Tabarka. People are crying for help as the city is caught up in flames & fumes. Dozens of families have been evacuated downtown to youth homes & kindergartens. Tabarka has limited resources & help is reaching them slowly. Ghaya Ben Mbarek غlىö بن مبlرك (@Ghaya_BM) July 24, 2023

In other North African countries such as Morocco and Libya, temperatures were relatively normal compared to annual averages.

(with AFP)

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