/ 30 August 2007

Algerian forest fires claim eight lives

Forest fires fed by winds off the Sahara and still burning out of control in northern Algeria have claimed eight lives in the past 48 hours, the country’s civil protection services said on Thursday.

A lack of specialised water-bombing planes, such as those currently being used to fight fires in Greece and Spain, has added to the challenges faced by firefighters and soldiers sent in as reinforcements.

Authorities have been battling 90 separate fires in 19 wooded regions in the north of the country, from Chlef in the west across to Skikda in the east.

The flames have consumed 20 000 hectares of woodland and farmland — the worst figures since 1983 — including pine trees, oaks, cedars and olive groves, spreading a choking black smoke across the regions affected.

Six people, including a woman and two children, were burnt to death at Beni Douala, in the Tizi Ouzou district of Kabylie, 110km east of Algiers, said civil protection service spokesperson Mohamed Amokrane Medjkane.

Two young walkers also perished on the Jijel coastline west of Algiers.

Six villages in the Beni-Douala district, 20km south of Tizi Ouzou, were evacuated, as was the airport at Bejaia to the east and a nearby riding club.

The fires have been burning for several days now, but all the deaths occurred over the past 48 hours. Farm animals and chained-up dogs abandoned by their owners have also perished in the flames. — Sapa-AFP