Deadly Wildfires Ripping Through Algeria: Criminal Hands behind Hundred-plus Fires Breaking Out at Same Time

August 13 2021

Source: Al Mayadeen

Hana Saada

Algeria did not rule out the possibility of a criminal act; “the rise in temperatures could not be the sole cause of these forest fires”.

Algerian Prime Minister and Minister of Finance, Aimene Benabderrahmane, declared that, following the investigations launched by the relevant departments, scientific evidence has proven that the recent massive wildfires that have engulfed different parts of Algeria, killing and injuring 69 people, were of criminal origin.

“Only criminal hands are behind the fires breaking out at the same time in various parts of the province,” he added during a visit he paid to the province of Tizi-Ouzou, heading a large ministerial delegation to inquire about the situation of this province, which has been afflicted with fires since Monday, causing 69 deaths, including civilians and soldiers.

The elements of the Civil Protection are still deployed on the ground, as the most destructive blazes in the country continue to rage.

In addition, the government has deployed the army to help fight the fires, which were the fiercest in the mountainous Kabylie region. 

In an update, the national news agency APS said that the rash of fires had claimed 69 lives, including 28 soldiers deployed to help overstretched emergency services. Another 12 soldiers are critically injured with burns.

Out of the 103 fires that broke out across 17 provinces of the country since last Monday, 86 have not been controlled, explained the Forests Director General, Ali Mahmoudi, pointing out that 30 major outbreaks were recorded in the province of Tizi-Ouzou.

“Only 17 of the 103 fires that erupted across 17 provinces since Monday have been extinguished,” Mr. Mahmoudi explained.

Fires are still tearing through Jijel (16 fires), Bejaïa (8 fires) El Tarf (6), Skikda (4), Annaba (4), Blida (4), Guelma (3), Sétif (2) , Médéa (2), Algiers (1), Batna (1), Bouira (1), Chlef (1), Khenchela (1) Oum El Bouaghi (1) and Tébessa (1).

Concerning the origin of these fires, Mr. Mahmoudi did not rule out the possibility of criminal act, noting that “the rise in temperatures could not be the sole cause of these forest fires”.

Images of trapped villagers, terrified livestock and forested hillsides reduced to blackened stumps were widely shared on social media, many of which were accompanied by pleas and cries for help. Photographs also showed huge walls of flame and billowing clouds of smoke towering over charred trees in the forested hills.

To this end, President Abdelmadjid Tebboune declared three days of national mourning starting Thursday, and he tweeted his condolences for the families and loved ones of the soldiers who were killed in action as they rescued people in the areas of Bejaiea and Tizi-Ouzou, the epicenter of the blazes.

“It is with great sadness that I have learned of the martyrdom of 25 soldiers after they were successful in rescuing around 100 citizens from the flames in the mountains of Bejaia and Tizi-Ouzou,” the President said.

The Defense Ministry said the actions of the soldiers “saved 110 people – men, women and children – from the flames”.

For his part, the Public Prosecutor of Tizi-Ouzou, Abdelkader Amrouche, said that work is underway on a draft law to amend the Forestry Law, highlighting that the authorities suspect widespread arson after so many fires erupted in such a short space of time.

He explained in an interview with journalists that this draft law includes severe penalties for forests arsonists, even if they are minors, stressing that these penalties may reach 30 years in prison.

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

It is worth noting that several arrests have been announced, but the identities or suspected motives of the detainees have not been disclosed.

The Algerian Minister of the Interior, Local Authorities and National Planning, Kamel Beldjoud, for his part, said that the wildfires that broke out in various parts of the country, killing 69 people, are of criminal origin. He also reassured the victims that they will be compensated, Algeria Press Service reported.

The Minister, who was accompanied by Minister of Agriculture and Minister of National Solidarity, told reporters that “criminals full of hatred against our country and wanting to harm Algeria are behind the fires that broke out in Tizi-Ouzou.”

“Only criminal hands can be behind 50 fires breaking out at the same time in various parts of the province,” he added.

Mr. Beldjoud pointed out the similarities between these “criminal” fires and others recorded in other parts of the country.

He said investigations into the wildfires are underway to identify and punish the guilty, reassuring the disaster victims that they will be compensated for their losses.

“Next Saturday, a delegation of 130 to 140 experts will visit the fire affected areas in Tizi-Ouzou to assess the damage and losses,” he said.

Mr. Beldjoud gave instructions for the mobilization of all available facilities (hotels, youth hostels, etc.) to accommodate the families who lost their homes to the fires.

“The current priority is to protect the local populations and preserve lives,” he said, lamenting the loss of six people, including a 23-year-old girl.

Algeria has reached a trade agreement with the European Union to lease two firefighting planes that were used in the firefighting operation in Greece, according to a statement issued, on Wednesday, by the Prime Ministry.

The same statement added that “the two planes will be put into use as of yesterday, Thursday, August 12, in the provinces where forest fires have broken out, as part of the mobilization of all the means and support to extinguish these fires.”The opinions mentioned in this article do not necessarily reflect the opinion of Al mayadeen, but rather express the opinion of its writer exclusively.


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