Firefighters, troops and civilian volunteers fought fires in forests in northern Algeria on Wednesday when the country killed at least 65 people in the latest forest fires that hit the Mediterranean.
Soldiers deployed to support the overcrowded rescue services are fighting the outbreak of more than 50 fires that broke out on Tuesday and accounted for 28 of those killed, state television reported.
Authorities say they suspect widespread arson after so many fires broke out in such a short time. They have announced several arrests but have not yet worked out the identity or suspicious motives for the detainees.
Pictures of trapped villagers, terrified cattle and wooded slopes reduced to black stumps were shared on social media, many of them accompanied by prayers for help.
Agence France-Presse (AFP) journalists saw the villagers desperately trying to put out the spreading fires with makeshift brooms in an attempt to save their homes.
High winds drove the rapid spread of the fires under the dry-dry conditions created by a heat wave over North Africa and the wider Mediterranean, fire officer Youcef Ould Mohamed told the state APS news agency.
A total of 69 separate forest fires were active on Wednesday, spread over 17 provinces, rescue service spokesman Nassim Barnaoui told reporters.
Most of the fires and 16 of the deaths were recorded in the Tizi Ouzou district, mainly in the Berber region of Kabylie, east of the capital Algiers.
“I left all my warehouse in my village and fled to Tizi Ouzou with my wife and three children,” said Abdelhamid Boudraren, a shopkeeper from the village of Beni Yeni.
“Fortunately, I own an apartment in central Tizi Ouzou where I am bored with my family and some neighbors,” he said.
A man watches a forest fire near the village of Larbaa Nath Irathen, near Tizi Ouzou, in the mountainous Kabyle region, 100 kilometers (60 miles) east of Algeria’s capital Algiers, August 11, 2021. (AP Photo)
Shouting for help
There have been calls for relief convoys to be sent to the worst-affected districts with food and medicine from the capital.
On Wednesday, an AFP correspondent saw several trucks on their way to Tizi Ouzou with aid donated by the public.
A call for volunteer doctors to help the city’s overworked medical services was also posted on Facebook.
State media have reported four arrests for suspected arson.
Meteorologists expect that the heat wave over North Africa will continue until the end of the week, with temperatures in Algeria reaching 46 degrees Celsius (115 degrees Fahrenheit).
In neighboring Tunisia, the capital Tunis broke an all-time record of 49 degrees Celsius (120 degrees Fahrenheit) on Tuesday.
The Tunisian rescue service reported 15 fires in the north and northwest, but none were injured.
On the northern shores of the Mediterranean, Turkey reported eight deaths and Greece three from forest fires that have erupted in the past two weeks.
Every summer, Algeria experiences seasonal forest fires, but rarely with anything approaching this year’s toll.
In 2020, almost 440 square kilometers of forest were destroyed by fire, and several people were arrested on suspicion of arson.
On Monday, the UN published a major report showing how the threat of global warming is even more acute than previously thought.
It highlighted how researchers quantify the extent to which human-induced warming increases the intensity and / or probability of a specific extreme weather event, such as a heat wave or a wildfire.
Climate change intensifies drought and creates ideal conditions for fires to spread out of control and cause unsurpassed material and environmental damage.