At least 69 dead as wildfires rage in Algeria

Country holds day of mourning after soldiers and civilians killed fighting blazes in several provinces

Flames raged across northern Algeria on Thursday as the country observed a national day of mourning for dozens of people killed in the latest wildfires to sweep the Mediterranean.

The North African country has been in the grip of devastating fires since Monday that have claimed 69 lives – 41 civilians and 28 soldiers.

Troops and civilian volunteers have joined firefighters on multiple fronts in the effort to extinguish the blazes that are being fanned by windy and tinder-dry conditions.

In Tizi Ouzou district, the area with the highest death toll, an AFP journalist reported entire sectors of forest going up in smoke as far as the eye can see.

Villagers forced to leave to escape the flames began trickling back to their homes, overwhelmed by the scale of the damage.

"I have nothing left. My workshop, my car, my flat. Even the tiles were destroyed," one told AFP.

But he said although "neighbours died or lost their relatives" he had "managed to save his family",.

'Surge of solidarity'

President Abdelmadjid Tebboune declared three days of national mourning starting from Thursday, and authorities say they suspect widespread arson after so many fires erupted in such a short space of time.

On the fourth day of the wildfires, efforts to overcome the blazes continued in many regions where civilians and soldiers – often with limited means – joined the fight.

Images of trapped villagers, terrified livestock and hillside forests reduced to blackened stumps have been shared on social media.

Algeria is chartering two firefighting planes from the European Union, aircraft used to tackle fires in Greece in the past two weeks.

France announced on Wednesday that it was sending three more aircraft.

Neighbouring Morocco, with whom Algeria has long had strained relations, also expressed a readiness to help by providing two planes.

Faced with the scale of the disaster, pleas for help are multiplying in Algeria and beyond.

"Individuals and associations are mobilising ... by organising collections of clothes, foodstuffs, medicines and hygiene products," said the TSA news website, calling it a "surge of solidarity".

Maghreb heatwave

High winds fuelled the rapid spread of the flames in tinder-dry conditions created by a heatwave across North Africa and the wider Mediterranean.

Armed forces chief Said Chengriha visited soldiers in Tizi Ouzou and Bejaia, another badly affected area. Prime Minister Aimene Benabderrahmane also visited Tizi Ouzou.

Each summer, Algeria endures seasonal wildfires but rarely anything approaching this year's disaster.

Meteorologists expect the Maghreb heatwave to continue until the end of the week, with temperatures in Algeria reaching 50°C.

Across the border in Tunisia, the temperature in the capital Tunis hit a record of 49°C on Tuesday.

On the northern shores of the Mediterranean, deadly wildfires have been raging in Turkey and Greece for the past two weeks.

In Italy, where firefighters were battling more than 500 blazes overnight, Sicily recorded a temperature of 48.8°C on Wednesday, which is believed to be a new European record.

Updated: August 12th 2021, 5:51 PM