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Fires in Algeria: at least 38 dead including families trapped in a bus

The toll increased with 30 dead including 11 children and six women in El Tarf in the far east, near the border with Tunisia, five in Souk Ahras, two in Sétif (north) and one in Guelma (east) , according to civil protection and local media who also reported more than 200 injuries, including 10 firefighters.

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Fires in Algeria: at least 38 dead including families trapped in a bus

The toll increased with 30 dead including 11 children and six women in El Tarf in the far east, near the border with Tunisia, five in Souk Ahras, two in Sétif (north) and one in Guelma (east) , according to civil protection and local media who also reported more than 200 injuries, including 10 firefighters.

The victims of Souk Ahras, also in the far east of the country, are from the same family and were buried in the presence of a large crowd, according to television images.

The Ministry of Justice has opened an investigation to determine whether the fires started on Wednesday were of criminal origin after statements by the Minister of the Interior, referring to "caused fires".

According to civil protection, 24 fires are still ongoing in seven prefectures. In the past 24 hours, 1,700 firefighters have been mobilized to put out 118 homes across 21 prefectures. The army and civil protection use water bomber helicopters.

Every year, the north of Algeria is affected by forest fires, but this phenomenon has been accentuated by climate change, which increases the probability of heat waves and droughts. It was around 48 degrees Celsius on Wednesday in El Tarf, Guelma and Souk Ahras.

On the road to El Kala, near El Tarf, a town of 100,000, an AFP team saw charred trees, burnt vehicles, people with wild eyes on farms where dead sheep and chickens burned alive.

- "A tornado of fire" -

"A tornado of fire", ignited an animal park in El Kala, and a dozen people died after being "trapped in a bus", in front of the zoo, according to witnesses.

"We tried to help the families to escape. Nobody came to help us, neither the fire brigade nor anyone else. It was the employees who tried to get people out of the park which was surrounded by flames. “, told AFP, Takyeddine, 22, an employee, one of whose colleagues died.

Prime Minister Aymen Benabderrahmane went to El Tarf on Thursday, where he explained to the media that with gusts of wind of more than 90 km / h, "it was very difficult to fight these fires".

An opinion shared by an aeronautical expert consulted by AFP. Such a wind makes practically "impossible the work of the water bomber helicopters which must drop as close as possible to the fire".

All artistic activities in the country were postponed after the tragedy. Associations organize the collection of money and medicines for the benefit of the victims, many of whom have suffered severe burns.

These fires have revived the debate on the lack of water bombers, which had agitated the country in 2021 when at least 90 people had perished in the north, in particular in Kabylia, in the worst fires in modern Algerian history.

In recent days, the authorities mobilized a Russian Beriev BE 200 water bomber, which broke down and will not be operational until Saturday, said Interior Minister Kamel Beldjoud.

- "Nibbled forest" -

Algeria recently canceled a contract to charter seven water bombers to a Spanish company, after a diplomatic quarrel with Madrid over the Western Sahara issue.

According to Mr. Benabderrahmane, Algeria has ordered four water bombers, the first of which will be delivered in December.

During an Algerian-Canadian seminar in May on the fight against forest fires by aerial means, specialists had recommended establishing "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, he said, the authorities had "22 Grumman-type devices" which "were sold at the symbolic dinar without any alternative being offered".

On social networks, the academic Rafik Baba-Ahmed pointed the finger at poor management of wooded areas invaded by human activities. "Today the forest is weakened, nibbled away."

The largest country in Africa, Algeria has a limited forest area of ​​4.1 million hectares, with a meager reforestation rate of 1.76%.

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