More than 40 dead in fires in northern Algeria

(Tizi-Ouzou) At least 42 people, including 17 civilians and 25 soldiers, were killed in the fires in northern Algeria, particularly in the Kabylie, in the heat wave.

Posted on Aug 10, 2021 at 7:39 am Updated at 6:28 pm

The fires, which began Monday evening, killed 17 civilians in Tizi-Ouzou and Sétif, according to a new assessment announced by Prime Minister Aïmène Benabderahmane that evening.

President Abdelmadjid Tebboune mourned the deaths of 25 soldiers who tried to put out the fires on Twitter and offered condolences to the families of the victims.

“It was with great sadness that I learned of the martyrdom of 25 soldiers after they had succeeded in rescuing more than a hundred citizens from the flames in the mountains of Bejaïa and Tizi-Ouzou,” wrote the president.

The Department of Defense said 14 other soldiers were burned to varying degrees.

Their intervention “made it possible to save 110 citizens from the flames: men, women and children,” added the ministry in a press release.

Appeals for international aid

Stunning images of the fires are circulating on social media, with charred tree trunks, dying, asphyxiated cattle, and villages surrounded by smoke as the surrounding hills glow red.

In the vicinity of Tizi-Ouzou, an injured man, wrapped in bandages, with a skull covered with ashes, walks through a street, others are carried on stretchers, noted an AFP photographer.

Calls are circulating in social networks like Instagram to deliver bandages, greasy tulle or even cream against burns to hospitals or crisis centers with scarce equipment.

Further appeals have been made on social media urging authorities to seek international help to end the fires.

In a statement received by AFP, a group of “democratic activists in Algeria and abroad” urged the authorities “to take all of their responsibilities and seek international aid as soon as possible to avoid both a human and an ecological catastrophe” .

“Only the airways with heavy equipment, such as Canadairs, can contain fires and fires,” argue the Algerians from both Mediterranean coasts.

For his part, the Prime Minister said on television that Algiers was “at an advanced stage in talks with European partners to hire fire-fighting planes”, without naming the countries contacted.

Winds are spreading the fires and making the rescuers’ work more difficult, said Youcef Ould Mohamed, the local forest keeper, quoted by the APS agency.

“criminal origin”

According to Interior Minister Kamel Beldjoud, who was from a ministerial delegation to Tizi-Ouzou, one of the most populous cities in the region.

“Fifty shots at the same time, that’s impossible. These fires are of criminal origin, ”said Mr Beldjoud.

According to the Prime Minister, more than 70 fires broke out in 18 wilayas (prefectures) in the north of the country. Civil defense reported a hundred fires in 16 wilayas.

The cities of Bouira, Sétif, Khenchela, Guelma, Bejaïa, Bordj Bou Arreridj, Boumerdès, Tiaret, Médéa, Tébessa, Blida and Skikda said the General Directorate for Civil Protection on Twitter.

The Algerian public radio announced the arrest of three “arsonists” in Médéa (north), where a fire also broke out. A fourth was arrested in Annaba, according to APS.

Algeria is experiencing a hot summer that is characterized by water shortages in the country. Weather services predict temperatures of up to 47 degrees.

At a Council of Ministers on July 25, President Tebboune ordered the drafting of a law that would punish those responsible for arson in forests with up to 30 years in prison or even life if people were killed by the fire.

In early July, three people suspected of being involved in fires that devastated 1,500 hectares of forest in the Aurès massif (northeast Algeria) were arrested.

The disaster did not prevent the JSK (Jeunesse Sportive de Kabylie), the flagship football club of the region, from playing and winning the Algerian Cup in the presence of high-ranking officials in Algiers on Wednesday evening, which caused some outraged reactions on social networks.

Algeria, the largest country in Africa, has only 4.1 million hectares of forest with a meager afforestation rate of 1.76%.

Forest fires hit the country every year. In 2020, almost 44,000 hectares of coppice forest went up in smoke. The authorities had announced that they had arrested several arsonists.

The increasing fires around the world are associated with various phenomena expected by scientists due to global warming.

The rise in temperature, the increase in heat waves and the decrease in precipitation in places are an ideal combination for the start of fires.

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