Algeria wildfires kill 34 people as blaze spreads to Tunisia

Tunisia begins evacuations from border city as flames spread quickly

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At least 34 people have been killed and dozens injured as wildfires swept across Algeria on Sunday and Monday, the Algerian Interior Ministry said.

Authorities said on Monday that 97 fires were burning, affecting forests and agricultural areas in 16 governorates on the country’s eastern coast.

Algerian Civil Defence teams and Armed Forces have evacuated dozens of trapped families in Bejaia governorate, 250km from the capital Algiers, as rescue and firefighting operations continue in other ravaged areas.

The Algerian Defence Ministry said 10 soldiers were killed and 25 injured in wildfires in the Beni Kesila area of Bejaia during rescue operations.

Meanwhile, Algerian meteorological services said a record heatwave would hit the country in the coming days, with temperatures reaching 48ºC in 31 governorates.

The wildfires have spread from Algeria to Tunisia's border city of Tabarka.

Dozens of families have been evacuated to youth hostels, nurseries and public spaces with help reaching the town slowly, eyewitnesses on the ground told The National.

Algeria and Tunisia hit by devastating wildfires

Algeria and Tunisia hit by devastating wildfires

Tabarka is over, please send help,” Sami Khedaireya, a local resident in Tabarka told The National as he made his way with other locals to help rescue a group of children caught in a house in the middle of the wildfire.

“The only solution is for Algeria to provide assistance as well.”

The flames are spreading quickly into the Meloula forests and surrounding areas, locals said.

Tunisian authorities continue to evacuate the 2,500 Meloula village residents. Coastguard boats, military helicopters and army vehicles have been dispatched for the operation.

Local volunteers and fishermen are also assisting authorities in the evacuation process. However, it is hard to reach some people as most roads leading to the affected areas have been blocked by flames.

Brig Gen Adel Abidi of the Tunisian civil defence told Mosaique radio that saving lives was the priority pending the arrival of support from neighbouring governorates and more equipment to contain the blazes,

“Electricity was cut off and now all we can do is stick together. Everyone is doing their best to help those evacuated to downtown,” Tabarka resident Mahbouba told The National.

Last week another fire in Tabarka ravaged 500 hectares and destroyed four homes.

Forests cover 1.3 million hectares in Tunisia, with 70 per cent of them in the north-west and centre-west.

In Tabarka, fire, climate change and deforestation have sharply reduced tree cover by about 6 per cent since 2000.

According to the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation, about 1.5 million hectares of Algeria is forested. Tree coverage has also decreased in recent years due to wildfires and climate change.

Global Forest Watch says tree cover loss reached a high in 2015, with 86 per cent of all losses for that year in Tunisia due to wildfires.

In Tunisia, the peak fire season typically begins in late June and lasts about 13 weeks. In recent years, fires have become more common, raising serious concerns.

Thousands of tourists and locals flee as wildfires rage on Greek island of Rhodes

Thousands of tourists and locals flee as wildfires rage on Greek island of Rhodes

Meanwhile, in Algeria, fire season typically begins in early June and lasts 22 weeks.

Last year, a wildfire in a forest near the Tunisian border with Algeria killed dozens and injured many others.

More than 100 fires raged in north-eastern Algeria in August 2022, affecting 14 governorates and killing 44 people. More than 500 families were displaced.

Algeria’s Public Prosecution Office in Bejaia and Jijel governorates said on Monday afternoon that an official investigation into the wildfires has begun.

The penalty for burning forests in Algeria is between 30 years and life in prison.

More wildfires also broke out in other Tunisian cities in the north-west, including Beja and Bizerte governorates.

Another fire erupted in Jbel Smema, Kasserine, in west-central Tunisia as record temperatures continue until the late hours of Monday evening.

Forest rangers and Tunisian military were reportedly able to contain the fire that ravaged 5 hectares of forest land, local authorities in Kasserine told Tunisian media outlets.

Updated: July 25, 2023, 6:52 AM