By Biodun Busari
At least 38 people have died and several dozens were injured in forest fires that started on Wednesday and affected 14 departments in northern Algeria.
The inferno has also displaced more than 350 families from their homes in Souk Ahras as the gendarmerie closed several roads.
According to African News, a report by the civil protection said that four people had various degrees of burns and 41 others suffered from breathing difficulties in Souk Ahras, a border town with Tunisia.
“Thirty-eight people died: two in Setif (east) and 24 in El Tarf (east), near the border with Tunisia, Interior Minister Kamel Beldjoud announced during the 8:00 p.m. news).
“Thirty-nine fires in 14 wilayas (prefectures) are ongoing,” said in the afternoon the civil protection, noting that the wilaya of El Tarf recorded the largest number of fires with 16 fires, many still ongoing.
According to the private television Ennahar, about fifty people are hospitalized in El Tarf, a city of about 100,000 inhabitants.
Helicopter water bombers intervened in three regions including Souk Ahras, a town of about 500,000 inhabitants. Those of the civil protection are supported by army helicopters.
Algeria has chartered a Russian water bomber Beriev BE 200, but after having intervened on different fires, it has suffered a breakdown and will be operational again only from Saturday, according to Beldjoud.
These fires have brought back the debate on the lack of water bomber aircraft in sufficient numbers, which had already distressed the country last summer.
Since the beginning of August, 106 fires have broken out in Algeria, destroying 800 hectares of forest and 1,800 hectares of coppice, said the Minister of the Interior and Local Government, Kamel Beldjoud.
“Some of these fires are caused,” said Beldjoud.