Wildfires tearing through forested areas of northern Algeria have killed at least 65 people, state television reported on Wednesday, as some of the most destructive blazes in the country’s history continued to rage.
The government has deployed the army to help fight the fires, which have burned most fiercely in the mountainous Kabylie region, and 28 of the dead are soldiers, with another 12 critically injured with burns.
President Abdelmadjid Tebboune declared three days of national mourning for the dead and froze state activities not related to the fires.
Forest fires have set large parts of Algeria, Turkey and Greece aflame over the past week, and a European Union atmosphere monitor said the Mediterranean had become a wildfire hot spot aided by increasingly hot weather.
Dozens of separate fires have raged through forest areas across northern Algeria since Monday, and on Tuesday Interior Minister Kamel Beldjoud accused arsonists of igniting the flames, without providing any evidence.
The worst-hit area has been Tizi Ouzou, the largest district of the Kabylie region, where houses have burned and residents fled to shelter in hotels, hostels and university accommodation in nearby towns.
The government has said it will compensate those affected.
Multinational force in Greece
At the other end of the Mediterranean, hundreds of firefighters from across Europe and the Middle East worked alongside Greek colleagues in rugged terrain on Wednesday to contain flareups of the huge wildfires that ravaged Greece’s forests for a week, destroying homes and forcing evacuations.
The spread of the blazes has been largely halted, officials said, but fronts still burned on the large island of Evia and in Greece’s southern Peloponnese region.
The fires broke out last week as Greece had just experienced its worst and most protracted heat wave since 1987, leaving its forests tinder-dry.
Greek officials said a total of 900 firefighters — including teams from Poland, Romania, Cyprus, Ukraine, Serbia, Slovakia and Moldova — were in action on Evia, which is the country’s second-largest island and linked to the mainland by bridge.
Evia’s rugged, forested northern part, with upland villages and small seaside resorts, has suffered the greatest damage from this month’s blazes, with an estimated 50,000 hectares lost, together with dozens of homes.
Another 600 firefighters from Greece, the Czech Republic, Britain, France and Germany were deployed on Wednesday near ancient Olympia and in Arcadia in the Peloponnese, assisted by 14 water-dropping aircraft and volunteers.
A massive fire that broke out last week north of Athens has been limited to a section of a national park on Mount Parnitha, with mostly ground forces trying to put it out with the help of a helicopter. Firefighters from France, Qatar, Kuwait and Israel were deployed there.
Several charged with causing fires
Despite the massive destruction to forests, wildlife and livestock — and homes, although official estimates are not yet available — Greek authorities’ core policy of evacuating villages to protect extensive loss of life has paid off. One volunteer firefight died last week after being struck by a falling electricity pole, and two have been hospitalized in serious condition with burns.
The Health Ministry said Wednesday another three firefighters required treatment for respiratory problems and light burns suffered in the Arcadia fire.
The cause of the blazes are under investigation, and authorities say that in at least one major blaze, arson seems likely. Several people have been arrested in different parts of the country and charged with causing fires, in some cases intentionally.
The government has pledged a large compensation and reforestation program.
In neighbouring Turkey, which has also been pummelled by a heat wave, firefighters worked to early Wednesday to extinguish a wildfire in the southwest Mugla province, which runs along the Aegean Sea.
At least eight people and countless animals have died in more than 200 wildfires in Turkey since July 28.
Meanwhile, Italy faced similar searing temperatures and quickly spreading fires, while Spain and Portugal were on alert for wildfires amid a heat wave forecast to last through Monday.
Worsening drought and heat — both linked to climate change — have also fuelled wildfires this summer in the western U.S., British Columbia and northwestern Ontario, as well as in Russia’s northern Siberia region. Scientists say there is little doubt that climate change from the burning of coal, oil and natural gas is driving extreme events.