May 30, 2023

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Algeria: Forest fire kills at least 38 and injures more than 200

Firefighters in Algeria battled forest fires in the north and extreme east of the country on Thursday, amid “scenes of devastation”, a day after the violent blaze killed at least 38 people and injured more than 200.

In the far east of the country, 30 people were killed, including 11 children, in El Darf, near the border with Tunisia. Civil defense and local media reported more than 200 injuries.

“A firestorm took everything away in seconds and most of the dead were surrounded as they went to the animal park,” a local journalist told AFP, on the road to El Qala, near the town of El Darf, a town of 100,000.

An AFP team at the scene confirmed “significant damage to the zoo, the death of one person who helped people escape” and “another 12 people trapped in the bus” trying to escape.

Prime Minister Aymen Benafterrahmane arrived in El Darf on Thursday morning, television reported.

Officials fear “new outbreaks of fire due to strong winds,” according to the AFP team, which noted the closure of several roads.

A total of 39 fires have ravaged 14 wilayas (departments) in recent days, with many continuing on Thursday. The military and civil defense are trying to cross it with water-bombing helicopters.

Another local journalist told AFP that a large fire was still raging in a mountainous area near Souk Ahras, about 200 km away. He spoke of scenes of panic the day before when 97 women and 17 newborns were evacuated from a hospital near a wooded area in the city of 500,000.

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Television footage showed residents running from burning homes and women carrying their children in their arms. More than 350 families had to leave their homes.

Officials rented a Russian Periv BE 200 water bomber, but after responding to various fires, it became disabled and would not be operational again until Saturday, Interior Minister Kamel Beltzout said on Wednesday evening.

Algeria recently canceled a contract to buy seven water bombers from a Spanish company, following a standoff with Madrid after it switched sides in favor of Morocco’s position on the Western Sahara document.

– ‘No Alternatives’ –

The last few days have fueled the debate over the insufficient number of water bombs that had already roiled the country last year.

The summer of 2021 was the deadliest since Algeria’s independence: at least 90 people died in forest fires that consumed more than 100,000 hectares of coppice in the north of the country.

During an Algerian-Canadian seminar on fighting forest fires last May, experts recommended “the establishment of a national fighting system equivalent to that of the 1980s,” AFP said. In discussions.

At that time, the expert added, “the DDA (Directorate of Air Operations) had 22 Grumman-type aircraft, the pride of Algeria, especially in the fight against forest fires.” Without offering any alternative solution.

Every year, the northern part of Algeria is affected by forest fires, but under the effect of climate change this phenomenon is pronounced annually, which increases the probability of heat waves and droughts and, by extension, fires.

El Darf, Quelma and Souk Ahras were around 48 degrees on Wednesday.

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Since early August, 106 fires have destroyed 800 hectares of forest and 1,800 hectares of coffee.

Africa’s largest country, Algeria, has only 4.1 million hectares of forest, with only 1.76% of forest cover.