Firefighters in Algeria have extinguished all but one of more than 50 wildfires that ravaged the country this week, killing at least 37 people and consuming farms, crops and cork forests, authorities say.
Since the beginning of June, some 1,240 blazes have destroyed 5,345 hectares (13,200 acres) of forests and other woodland, the civil defence’s Colonel Boualem Boughlef said.
Four people have been arrested on suspicion of setting fire to crops in El Tarf, the epicentre of the latest wildfires, according to the official news agency APS.
Algerian Prime Minister Aimene Benabderrahmane, visiting the scene on Thursday, said the larger problem was the exceptional heat and winds fanning the flames across the North African region. Similar fires and extreme weather linked to climate change have hit countries around Europe this month.
In El Tarf, residents still in shock took stock of the damage.
“People died and nobody came,” said Hakim Bouachiha, a security worker at the Berabtia Zoo, describing to The Associated Press news agency a three-hour wait for emergency crews.
The victims included a family of five found in their home, tourists visiting the coast and eight people on a public bus that was surprised by flames in a mountainous region.
El Tarf resident Mohamed Gefaifia told AP he had seen a woman next to the bus “who had protected her children by covering them with her body, but she ended up dying, poor thing”.
Forensic experts are working to identify the dead and combing fire-afflicted areas to check if there are any more victims, civil protection officials said.
Friday’s weather was cooler but special end-of-summer concerts and cultural activities have been cancelled because of the fires.
Algerians from elsewhere sent trucks loaded with food, medicines, blankets and clothes to El Tarf, and world leaders called Algeria’s president to offer their support.
The Justice Ministry has set up a commission to investigate the source of the fires.