Multiple wildfires in Algeria claims 90 lives; Government blames arsonists
Multiple wildfires in the Kabylia Region in northern Algeria have been burning since 9 August 2021. The fires have killed 90 people, including 57 civilians and 33 soldiers to date. More than 70 fires have occurred in 13 prefectures in the north of the country including Tizi-Ouzou, Bouira, Sétif, Khenchela, Guelma, Bejaïa, Bordj Bou Arreridj, Boumerdès, Tiaret, Medea, Tébessa, Blida and Skikda. The soldiers died after being trapped in the blaze during rescue operations. Algerian authorities sent soldiers to help citizens with the blazes and evacuations. On 10 August 2021, multiple fires have burned Mediterranean trees, destroying olive trees and killing cattle and chickens. Many rural villages have very limited water. Some villagers fled, while others tried to hold back the flames themselves, using buckets, branches and rudimentary tools as fire fighting aircraft were not available.
Algeria’s Government on Tuesday, 10 August 2021, said arsonists were responsible for the multiple forest fires that have killed 90 people and destroyed homes east of the capital. However, the country was suffering a heatwave. The heatwave was expected to continue across North Africa until the end of the week, with temperatures in Algeria reaching 46 degrees Celsius.
Plumes of smoke rose from pockets of fire in the forest in Tizi Ouzou region on Tuesday, while residents used tree branches and hurled water from plastic containers in an attempt to put out the flames however they could. Several houses were burnt and families were escaping to hotels, youth hostels and university residences, as the dense smoke hampered the visibility of fire crews. At least 33 military men were among the dead as the North African country deployed the army to help fire fighters contain fires that ravaged several houses in forested areas.
In addition to soldiers on the ground, the Army has been using six helicopters to extinguish blazes. They are supported by two fire fighting aircraft hired from the European Union and which have been in action since early Thursday, 12 August 2021.
The Government received two more aircraft from Spain on Friday and a third one from Switzerland within three days, President Abdelmadjid Tebboune said.
Interior Minister Kamel Beldjoud said an investigation would be launched to identify those behind the blazes as he put the death toll at six.
The Defence Ministry later said in a statement 18 military men died and seven had been injured as they tried to extinguish fires. "Only criminal hands can be behind the simultaneous outbreak of about 50 fires across several localities of the province," the minister said on state television.
Fire fighters and the army were still trying to contain the blazes and Beldjoud said the priority was to avoid more victims. He vowed to compensate those affected.
“We have arrested 22 people suspected of being behind the most devastating wildfires in the country’s history that killed 65 people”, President Abdelmadjid Tebboune said on Thursday, 12 August 2021, calling the fires a ‘disaster’ and urging the preservation of national unity.
President Tebboune has declared three days of national mourning for the victims.
Sources: Reuters, Euro News, BBC, Getty Images, Al Jazeera, CNN