Algerian firefighters on Thursday battled a string of fires, fueled by drought and a scorching heat wave that has killed at least 38 people and left devastation in its wake.
Deadly wildfires have become an annual scourge in the North African country, where climate change is turning large areas into a trash can.
According to multiple sources, including local journalists and fire authorities, at least 38 people have been killed, mostly in the El Tarf region near Algeria’s eastern border with Tunisia, which is being grilled in the heat. 48 degrees Celsius (118 degrees Fahrenheit).
According to various Algerian media, at least 200 other people suffered burns or breathing problems from the smoke.
A journalist in El Tarf described “devastating scenes” on the road to El Kala in the extreme northeast of the country.
“A tornado of fire wiped everything out in seconds,” he told AFP by phone. “Most of the people who died were surrounded while visiting a wildlife park.”
Emergency services are still battling the blaze around Lake Tonga, he said.
An AFP team in El Kala reported a strong smell of smoke and said authorities were concerned that strong winds could trigger a new fire.
They also saw extensive damage at the wildlife park and one witness, who asked not to be named, said 12 people were burned to death in their bus as they tried to escape.
Some roads in the area have been closed.
State television on Thursday morning reported that Prime Minister Ayman Benabderrahmane visited this area.
Firefighters are also battling a large fire in the mountainous area of Souk Ahrasa journalist in the area told AFP.
He described the panic in the city of half a million people, where nearly 100 women and 17 newborn babies had to be evacuated from a hospital near the forest.
Algerian television showed people fleeing burning houses, women holding babies in their arms. Local media said 350 people had left their homes.
Some 39 blazes are ravaging various parts of northern Algeria, according to the fire service, and there are concerns that hot winds could spark new fires that the authorities are not equipped to fight.
The scene raised fears of a repeat of fires last year that killed at least 90 people and devastated 100,000 hectares of forest and farmland in the north of the country.
Last year’s disaster prompted fierce criticism from authorities over a lack of firefighting aircraft.
Authorities have leased a Russian Beriev BE 200 water bomber, but it has broken down and is not expected to return to service until Saturday, the Interior Minister Kamel Beldjoud speak.
The Civil Guard and the military have access to some firefighting helicopters.
Experts have called for a major effort to boost the firefighting capacity of Africa’s largest country, which has more than four million hectares of forest.
An unnamed expert told AFP that in the 1980s the country had 22 Grumman planes used to fight forest fires but they were “sold cheaply, without any proposed alternatives”. “.
Algeria had agreed to buy seven firefighting planes from the Spanish company Plysa, but canceled the contract after a diplomatic clash in Western Sahara at the end of June, according to the specialist website. Mena Defense.
Since the beginning of August, 106 fires have broken out in Algeria, destroying 800 hectares of forest and 1,800 hectares of forests, according to Beldjoud, who said some were caused by arson.
BDST: 2034 HRS, Aug 18, 2022