Algeria observes day of mourning after dozens killed in wildfires

At least 69 people killed in the devastating fires, as President Abdelmadjid Tebboune declares three days of national mourning.

Villagers attempt to put out a wildfire, in Achallam village, in the mountainous Kabylie region [Abdelaziz Boumzar/Reuters]

Blazes continue to rage across northern Algeria as the country observes a national day of mourning after dozens of people were killed in the latest wildfires to sweep the Mediterranean nation.

The North African country has been in the grip of devastating fires since Monday that have killed at least 69 people – 41 civilians and 28 soldiers – as of Thursday.

As fires sprang up on Monday in the northern region of Kabylie and elsewhere, Algerian authorities sent in the army to help battle blazes and evacuate people. Multiple fires were burning through forests and devouring olive trees and livestock that provide the livelihoods of families in the area.

Tizi Ouzou district, the regional capital of Kabylie, recorded the highest casualty toll. A journalist from the AFP news agency reported entire sectors of forest going up in smoke. Villagers forced to evacuate in order 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 of them told AFP. But he said he had “managed to save his family”, adding that “neighbours died or lost their relatives”.

Villagers use branches to put out a wildfire, in Achallam village, in the mountainous Kabylie region of Tizi Ouzou, east of Algiers, Algeria, August 11, 2021 [Abdelaziz Boumzar/Reuters]

A national mourning

Flags were flying at half-mast after President Abdelmadjid Tebboune declared three days of national mourning starting from Thursday as he was visiting Tizi Ouzou to speak with families displaced by the wildfires

During his visit, Benabderrahmane said authorities believe the blazes, which erupted in such a short span of time, started from illegal activity.

But climate scientists say there is little doubt climate change from the burning of coal, oil and natural gas is driving extreme events such as heatwaves, droughts and wildfires, which they say are likely to happen more frequently as Earth warms.

Meanwhile, on Thursday, the country’s state prosecutor ordered an investigation after a mob allegedly lynched a man they accused of sparking the wildfires.

Video footage posted online on Wednesday showed a crowd beating 38-year-old Jamal Ben Ismail to death and setting him ablaze in the Tizi Ouzou district.

Volunteers collect aid donations to be distributed to people affected by the wildfires tearing through forested areas of Algiers, northern Algeria [Abdelaziz Boumzar/Reuters]

Ongoing efforts

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

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

Algeria is also chartering two firefighting planes from the European Union. France also announced the arrival in Algeria of two Canadair firefighting planes it has sent.

“They will help the rescue efforts to deal with the terrible fires,” French President Emmanuel Macron tweeted.

Neighbouring Morocco, with whom Algeria has long had strained ties over Western Sahara, also offered to help by providing two planes.

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

“Individuals and associations are mobilising … by organising collections of clothes, foodstuffs, medicines and hygiene products,” said Algeria’s TSA news website, calling it a “surge of solidarity”.

Djaffar, a resident of the village of Agoulmim in Kabylie, expressed his gratitude on Berber TV.

“God bless them … We had no electricity and people brought in generators from all around,” the exhausted villager said after his ordeal.

“The flames were so high, they destroyed everything. Suddenly it was like a volcano,” he said.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies

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