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At least 69 dead in Algeria due to wildfires

Morocco offers Algeria two aircraft to assist in firefighting efforts. More than a hundred fires in Tunisia due to temperatures up to 49º
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Algeria is fighting for the third consecutive day against a hundred fires focused in the north of the country, mainly in the region of Kabylia (northwest), which have caused the death of 69 people, including 28 military, and have led the President of the Republic to decree three days of national mourning from Thursday.

By order of King Mohamed VI, Morocco offered Algeria two Canadair aircraft to help extinguish the fires raging in the Kabylia region in the northwest of the country.

According to a press release from the Civil Protection, 69 fires are currently still burning in 17 of the 58 wilayas and more than 800 officers, 115 air tankers and two helicopters have been mobilized.

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Twelve other soldiers are still in a "serious condition" due to burns after they were sent as reinforcements to evacuate the residents of Tizi Ouzou and Béjaia, the two most affected regions, while a score of people are still missing and their families have launched search campaigns on social networks, the local newspaper "Tout sur l'Algérie" published today.

The authorities insist on the "criminal" origin of these fires and announced the arrest of four alleged perpetrators, three of them in the city of Médéa, 80 kilometers from the capital, and a fourth in Annaba, bordering Tunisia.

The National Federation of Forestry Agents went a step further today and described the fires as "terrorist acts", and called on the Government for a "radical change" in the forest protection strategy and a "hard hand" against the perpetrators.

Human losses and enormous material damage

This region, known for its olive plantations, has left harsh images with thousands of charred trees and livestock dying of suffocation. The Taksebt dam, the most important dam in the area with a capacity of 180 million cubic meters, has been at its lowest level for several weeks, in addition to the strong winds and the difficult access to the affected mountainous areas. 

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For Hasan Houicha, a journalist with a local newspaper in the wilaya of Jilel (northeast), the number of victims has been considerably reduced thanks to the solidarity of the inhabitants of neighboring municipalities who have participated in the evacuation of hundreds of people, housed in hotels and university residences requisitioned by the State. 

One of them is Tanina, originally from the village of Larbaa Nath Iraten, in Tizi Ouzou, and who at the age of eleven has had to leave her home to take refuge in a garage far from the epicenter of the fire.

"I want to return to our house but I don't think I can," she told Efe in tears as she waits with the rest of her family members for the fire to be extinguished to check the ravages caused. 

The inhabitants of Béjaia, another of the hardest hit areas and located a hundred kilometers away, have been watching since last Monday how the flames devastate the Yama Guraya mountain, one of the tourist pearls of the region and which was classified more than a decade ago as a biosphere reserve by Unesco. 

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"I had never seen anything like it, when I saw the fire it was very small and in less than two minutes it spread in an incredible way," Bilal, one of the witnesses, recalled with surprise. 

Shortage of means to stop the fire

Algeria, the continent's largest country with more than 4 million hectares of forest, has been experiencing a heat wave in recent weeks, with temperatures reaching 47 degrees Celsius, which will last until next Monday.

Dozens of trucks left the capital today to send up to 340 tons of food and medicines to the region of Kabylia, while international aid began to arrive in the last hours of Wednesday. 

Since its independence in 1962, the Maghreb country lacks sufficient means to face this type of catastrophe, so the authorities said to carry out an operation to charter several air tankers from different European countries.

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French President Emmanuel Macron announced today the deployment of two of these aircraft and a command plane, while his Tunisian counterpart, Kais Said, promised to send a specialized firefighting helicopter.

For his part, the director of communication of the Civil Protection, Farouk Achour, ruled out today that the use of these planes is the best option due to the topography of the terrain, with reduced forest spaces and the presence of numerous municipalities, as it could cause greater damage.

Morocco offers Algeria two aircraft to help in firefighting efforts

Morocco has offered Algeria two Canadair aircraft to help extinguish the fires raging in the Kabylia region in the northwest of the country.

The king, Mohamed VI, gave orders to mobilize these two planes to work on the fires and the Moroccan authorities are now waiting for the Algerian authorities to accept this assistance, according to a statement from the Moroccan Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

The King specifically instructed his Interior and Foreign Ministers, Abdeluafi Laftit and Naser Burita, respectively, to express to their Algerian counterparts the readiness of the Kingdom of Morocco to help Algeria in this catastrophe. 

Mohamed VI devoted his throne speech this year, on July 31, to build bridges with neighboring Algeria and to call for the opening of the land borders, closed by Algerian decision since 1984.

The death toll from the hundred or so fires which have ravaged Kabylia since last Monday now stands at 65, of whom 28 were military personnel who died during the fire-fighting operations.

According to the latest official report, 12 soldiers are still in a "serious condition" due to burns after they came to support the forest rangers.

More than a hundred fires in Tunisia due to temperatures up to 49 degrees Celsius

A total of 150 fires broke out in the last 24 hours in various regions of Tunisia due to high temperatures, which reached 49 degrees Celsius on Tuesday, although no fatalities have been reported so far, Civil Protection spokesman Moez Triâa told state agency TAP today.

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Currently, six outbreaks are still active in the mountainous areas of the north of the country and concentrated in Bizerte (east), Jendouba and El Kef (west), which has forced the evacuation of a dozen families during the last hours, explained the official.

According to the National Institute of Meteorology (INM), Tunisia reached this Tuesday the highest temperatures of the continent in six of its provinces due to a heat wave that will last until next Friday.

Last June, the country recorded a total of 165 fires that destroyed more than 4,800 hectares of forest, twice as many as during the same period last year. 

The director of the national electricity company (STEG), Mounir Ghabi, declared today that the continuous power cuts in the metropolitan area of the so-called Greater Tunisia are due to the fires raging in neighboring Algeria.