At least 37 killed by fires in Algeria | International

An animal burned in the El Kala fire, this Thursday in the Algerian province of Al Taref.
An animal burned in the El Kala fire, this Thursday in the Algerian province of Al Taref.RAMZI BOUDINA (REUTERS)

Forest fires wreak havoc in Algeria, already hit by fire last summer. The flames have caused at least 37 deaths, as Algerian public radio advanced this Thursday and later confirmed by the Civil Protection agency, which has counted a total of 128 active outbreaks in 21 governorates of the country. Those injured in the fires number at least 160, some in serious condition. The authorities attribute the fires, which especially affect the provinces of Al Taref and Setif, to the weather conditions of recent days, with temperatures around 40 degrees, which have been joined by strong winds that facilitate their expansion. This Thursday morning, the Prime Minister, Ayman Benabderrahmane, visited one of the affected areas.

The province hardest hit by the flames has been that of Al Taref, where around 30 people have died. The motives and location of all the victims are still not known with precision, but it has been reported that eight of them perished when a bus that was driving near one of the fires was engulfed by the flames. Two other people died in the town of Ouled Sebt, in the province of Setif, due to smoke inhalation. In addition, there is an undetermined number of missing, so the balance of victims could increase in the coming hours.

In an appearance on public television on Wednesday night, Interior Minister Kamal Beldjoud estimated that the fire has already burned more than 2,600 hectares of forests and bushes in Al Taref, Jijel, Skikda, Tipasa and Souk provinces. Ahras. In this last region, some 400 people were able to be evacuated after being surrounded by flames amid great tension. “The State has mobilized all means since the beginning of the summer season in anticipation of forest fires,” Beldjoud declared. Among the means deployed is the Army, including several helicopters. “Commissions have been set up in the provinces with the aim of estimating the material losses in the affected areas,” added the Minister of the Interior.

The country’s president, Abdelmajid Tebún, offered his condolences to the victims on Wednesday through an official statement. “Following the ongoing forest fires in several provinces in the east of the country, having caused victims in Al Taref and Setif, the President of the Republic, Abdelmajid Tebun, offers his sincere condolences and compassion to the families of the victims, wishing a speedy recovery of the wounded”, reads the note, in which the president promises the support of the State to the wounded and the mobilization of “all human and material means” to extinguish the flames.

A wave of fires already devastated the country last summer, causing the death of 90 people and the destruction of thousands of hectares, most of them in the Kabylia region, located near Algiers, the capital. That drama was surrounded by controversy for several reasons. In the first place, due to the fact that the country did not have any seaplanes, despite the fact that the Mediterranean region is one of the most exposed to fires in summer. To remedy this problem, the authorities have acquired six Beriev-200 seaplanes. Awaiting their arrival, Algiers rented one of these seaplanes from Russia this summer, but it has been conspicuous by its absence in the skies of the affected areas in recent days. “Unfortunately, it has been out of order for three days,” explained Beldjoud.

The other source of controversy was the fact that the Algerian authorities claimed that the MAK party, which advocates self-determination for the Kabylia region, was behind the fires, suggesting that it would have had the collaboration of Morocco. They also blamed the MAK, considered a “terrorist organization” by Algiers, for the lynching and murder of Djamel Bensmail, a young man who came to the area as a volunteer to help control the fires and who a mob mistook for an arsonist. The brutal attack was recorded with a mobile phone and then spread on social networks, which caused a great commotion in Algerian society.

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