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Algeria fires fanned by winds, extreme heat kill 15

By AFP - Jul 25,2023 - Last updated at Jul 25,2023

ALGIERS — Wildfires raging across Algeria during a blistering heatwave have killed at least 15 people and forced mass evacuations, the government said on Monday.

As temperatures hit 48 degrees Celsius in parts of the North African country, it recorded 97 blazes across 16 provinces, fanned by strong winds, said the interior ministry.

The fires injured 26 people and raged through residential areas, it said, adding that most had been put out.

Some 1,500 people were evacuated from the Bejaia, Bouira and Jijel provinces east of the capital Algiers, according to the ministry.

The three provinces in Algeria's Mediterranean coastal region have seen the worst of the fires.

President Abdelmadjid Tebboune on Monday expressed his condolences to the families of the deceased, noting both civilian and military victims.

The interior ministry said that 7,500 firefighters and 350 firetrucks were mobilised to fight the flames, aided by aerial fire-fighting support.

Operations were under way to extinguish fires in six provinces, it added, calling on citizens to "avoid areas affected by the fires" and to report new blazes on toll-free phone numbers.

"Civil protection services remain mobilised until the fires are completely extinguished," the ministry said.

In the north-eastern province of Tizi Ouzou, 15 fires were extinguished late Sunday, according to civil protection forces.

Fires regularly rage through forests and fields in Algeria in summer, and this year have been exacerbated by a heatwave that has seen several Mediterranean countries break temperature records.

In neighbouring Tunisia, temperatures on Monday neared 50ºC.

Tunisia’s state energy supplies STEG announced planned half-hour to one-hour power cuts in a bid to preserve the network’s performance.

Last week, a major blaze raged in a Tunisian pine forest near the border with Algeria.

A border crossing had to close temporarily, according to Tunisian officials who confirmed 470 hectares of forest had been burned.

In some other North African countries such as Morocco and Libya, temperatures were relatively normal compared to annual averages.

Algeria’s state energy firm Sonelgaz on Sunday reported a peak in electricity consumption at 18,697 megawatts.

In August 2022, massive blazes killed 37 in Algeria’s north-eastern El Tarf province.

It was preceded by the deadliest summer in decades, with 90 people killed in such fires in 2021, particularly the Kabylie region.

In a bid to avoid a repeat of previous years’ death tolls, the authorities had announced a series of measures in the months leading up to peak summer heat.

Tebboune in April announced the acquisition of six medium-sized water-bombing aircraft.

This was followed by the interior ministry similarly announcing the imminent acquisition of one such aircraft and the leasing of six others the following month.

And in May, authorities said they were preparing for wildfires by constructing landing strips for helicopters and fire-fighting drones.

Scientists rank the Mediterranean region as a climate-change “hot spot”, with the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change warning of more heatwaves, crop failures, droughts, rising seas and influxes of invasive species.

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