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10.08.2021 Algeria

Seven dead as wildfires rage across Algeria

By AFP
Smoke billows from a wildfire in the forested hills of the Kabylie region, east of the capital Algiers, on August 10, 2021.  By Ryad KRAMDI (AFP)
LISTEN AUG 10, 2021
Smoke billows from a wildfire in the forested hills of the Kabylie region, east of the capital Algiers, on August 10, 2021. By Ryad KRAMDI (AFP)

Wildfires fanned by blistering temperatures and tinder-dry conditions have killed at least seven people in Algeria, the interior minister said Tuesday, adding the fires had criminal origins.

Photographs posted on social media show huge walls of flame and billowing clouds of smoke towering over villages in the forested hills of the Kabylie region, east of the capital Algiers.

Algeria is the latest Mediterranean country to be hit by wildfires, after blazes hit Greece, Turkey and Cyprus.

Meteorologists said the temperature would hit 46 degrees Celsius (115 degrees Fahrenheit) on Tuesday, and the country is also struggling with severe water shortages.

Fires were reported in multiple locations in 14 districts, 10 of them around Tizi Ouzou, one of the most populous cities in Kabylie.

Interior Minister Kamel Beldjoud told television the fires had claimed the lives of seven people, including six in the region around Tizi Ouzou and one in Setif.

"Fifty fires starting at the same time is impossible. These fires are of criminal origin," said Beldjoud, who headed a ministerial visit to Tizi Ouzou.

The urban centres of Bouira, Setif, Khenchela, Guelma, Bejaia, Bordj Bou Arreridj, Boumerdes, Tiaret, Medea, Tebessa, Blida and Skikda were also hit by fires, the civil protection directorate said on Twitter.

Major fires were also reported in Ait-Yenni, Azazga, Jijel and Yakourene.

Arson suspected

Map of northern Algeria locating major fires in the last 24 hours.  By Cléa PÉCULIER (AFP) Map of northern Algeria locating major fires in the last 24 hours. By Cléa PÉCULIER (AFP)

Public radio reported the arrest of three suspected arsonists in Medea.

Arson has been blamed for several major fires in recent years.

Last month, President Abdelmadjid Tebboune ordered a bill to stiffen punishments for starting a forest fire, with sentences of up to 30 years in prison -- and possible life imprisonment, if the fire results in death.

In July, three people were arrested on suspicion of starting fires that devastated 15 square kilometres (six square miles) of forest in the Aures mountains.

In 2020, nearly 440 square kilometres (170 square miles) of forest were destroyed by fire, and several people were arrested on suspicion of arson.

On Monday, the UN released a major report showing how the threat from global warming is even more acute than previously thought.

It highlighted how scientists are quantifying the extent to which human-induced warming increases the intensity and/or likelihood of a specific extreme weather event, such as a heatwave or a wildfire.

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