Wildfires raging across Algeria have killed more than 30 people, including 10 soldiers battling the flames, and forced the evacuation of hundreds of people from their homes along the country’s Mediterranean coastal region.
The reports of the deaths came on Monday as temperatures hit 48 degrees Celsius (118 Fahrenheit) in parts of the North African country.
The Algerian interior ministry said it recorded 97 blazes, fanned by fierce winds and extreme heat, across 16 provinces.
The fires killed at least 34 people, including 10 soldiers, as they raged through residential areas, the ministry said revising an earlier toll of 15 dead.
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According to that initial toll, at least 26 people were also injured.
The ministry said the fires forced the evacuation of some 1,500 people from the Bejaia, Bouira and Jijel provinces east of the capital Algiers. The three provinces in Algeria’s Mediterranean coastal region have seen the worst of the fires.
President Abdelmadjid Tebboune offered his condolences to the families of the victims, both civilians and security personnel.
About 7,500 firefighters and 350 trucks aided by aerial support were battling to bring the flames under control across the country, authorities said, including in the Boumerdes, Tizi Ouzou, Jijel and Skikda regions.
Operations were under way to extinguish fires in six provinces, the interior ministry said, 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,” it added.
The Bejaia prosecutor’s office has ordered a preliminary probe to identify the causes of the blazes and potential perpetrators, it said in a statement.
Images shared by local media showed fields and forests that had caught fire in the area as well as charred vehicles and storefronts destroyed by the flames.
While Algeria is no stranger to wildfires in the summer, this year, they have been exacerbated by a heatwave that has seen several Mediterranean countries break temperature records.
In neighbouring Tunisia, temperatures on Monday neared 50C (122F).
Fires raged again in a Tunisian pine forest near the border with Algeria, after another blaze in the area last week. At least 300 people were evacuated by sea and by land from the village of Melloula, according to the national guard.
In some other North African countries such as Morocco and Libya, temperatures were relatively normal compared with annual averages.
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.