August 11, 2021
ALGIERS (Reuters) -Wildfires tearing through forested areas of northern Algeria have killed at least 65 people, state television reported on Wednesday, as the country battled some of the most destructive blazes in its history.
The government has deployed the army to help fight the fires, which have burnt most fiercely in the mountainous Kabylie region, and 28 of the dead are soldiers.
President Abdelmadjid Tebboune declared three days of national mourning and froze state activities not related to the fires.
French President Emmanuel Macron said Paris would send two water bombers to the Kabylie region, promising on Twitter to “bring all our support to Algerian citizens.”
Algeria’s government later said it had reached an agreement with the European Union to hire two firefighting planes. The prime minister’s office said the planes, which will be in action from Thursday, had been used to tackle blazes in Greece.
Morocco’s King Mohammed VI expressed readiness to dispatch two aircraft and was waiting for approval from Algerian authorities to go ahead, Morocco’s state news agency MAP said.
Ties between Algeria and Morocco have been tense for decades because of differences over a conflict in the Western Sahara.
Algeria last month recalled its ambassador to Rabat after the Moroccan envoy to the United Nations called for “the right of self-determination” of the Kabylie region.
Forest fires have set large parts of Algeria, Turkey and Greece aflame over the past week as temperatures rose.
Dozens of fires have raged through forest areas across northern Algeria since Monday. On Tuesday, Interior Minister Kamel Beldjoud accused arsonists of igniting the flames, but produced no evidence.
The worst-hit area is Tizi Ouzou, the largest Kabylie district, where houses have burned and residents fled to hotels, hostels and university accommodation in nearby towns.
The government has said it will compensate those affected.
(Reporting by Hamid Ould Ahmed, additionnal reporting by Nicolas Delame in Paris, Writing by Angus McDowall; Editing by Janet Lawrence, John Stonestreet and Timothy Heritage)