Europe 1 with AFP 4:54 p.m., August 18, 2022
In the aftermath of violent fires that killed at least 38 people, including more than a dozen children, firefighters in Algeria continued Thursday to fight against 24 forest fires in the north and far east of the country, in the middle of "scenes of desolation".
The Department of Justice has opened an investigation.
Firefighters in Algeria continue Thursday to fight against 24 forest fires in the north and the extreme east of the country, in the midst of "scenes of desolation", the day after violent fires which killed at least 38 people, including more than a dozen children.
The toll rose with 30 dead, including 11 children and six women in El Tarf, in the far east of the country, near the border with Tunisia, five in Souk Ahras, two women in Sétif and one person in Guelma , in the east, according to civil protection and local media which also reported more than 200 injuries, including ten firefighters.
1,700 firefighters were mobilized
The Ministry of Justice has launched an investigation to determine whether the fires were of arson after statements by the Home Secretary that "some of the fires were caused".
According to civil protection, 24 fires are still underway in seven prefectures.
During the past 24 hours, 1,700 firefighters have been mobilized to put out 118 homes across 21 prefectures.
The army and civil protection also use water bomber helicopters.
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- Forest fires have doubled worldwide in 20 years
Every year, the north of Algeria is affected by forest fires, but this phenomenon is accentuated from year to year under the effect of climate change, which increases the probability of heat waves and droughts and, by extension, fires.
It was around 48 degrees on Wednesday in El Tarf, Guelma and Souk Ahras.
Multiple damage in a city of 100,000 inhabitants
On the road to El Kala, near El Tarf, a city of 100,000 inhabitants, an AFP team saw charred trees, burned vehicles, people with wild eyes.
In El Kala, they noted "significant damage in the animal park, the death of a person who was helping people to flee" and "12 others trapped in a bus" in front of this zoo.
At El Kala hospital, out of "72 people taken care of, nine are in intensive care, nine died and the others have left," a health sector executive in the wilaya of El Tarf.
Prime Minister Aymen Benabderrahmane, who arrived in El Tarf on Thursday, presented President Abdelmadjid Tebboune's condolences to the families and assured that the "authorities were implementing all means" to treat the injured and extinguish the fires still in progress.
Near Souk Ahras, about 200 km away, five fires are still not under control.
The day before, the fire had caused scenes of panic as it approached this city of half a million inhabitants.
At least 350 families have left their homes, a hospital evacuated.
A broken down water bomber plane
To intervene on the fires, the authorities mobilized a Russian water bomber Beriev BE 200, which broke down and will not be operational before Saturday, according to the Minister of the Interior, Kamel Beldjoud, Wednesday evening.
Algeria recently canceled a contract for the chartering of seven water bombers to a Spanish company, following a falling out with Madrid after its reversal in favor of the Moroccan position on the Western Sahara dossier.
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- In July 2022, Algeria celebrated with great fanfare the 60th anniversary of its independence
The fires of the last few days have revived the debate on the lack of water bombers in sufficient numbers, which had already shaken the country last year when at least 90 people died in the north of the country, in the worst fires since the 'independence.
A new control device had been recommended
During an Algerian-Canadian seminar on the fight against forest fires, specialists had recommended last May "the establishment of a national system of fight at least equivalent to that which existed in the 1980s", a told AFP on condition of anonymity an expert who participated in the debates.
At the time, "the DTA (aerial work directorate) had 22 Grumman-type aircraft which were the pride of Algeria, particularly in the fight against forest fires", added the expert, according to whom the devices "were sold at the symbolic dinar without any alternative solution being offered".
The largest country in Africa, Algeria has a limited forest area of 4.1 million hectares, with a meager reforestation rate of 1.76%.