ALGIERS, Algeria (AP) — Algeria’s president says five firefighting planes from European countries are expected by Saturday to help battle wildfires that killed at least 69 people through the mountainous Berber region, amid a heat wave like the ones fueling fires in Southern Europe.
Two French water-dropping airplanes on Thursday joined the effort to tame the fires in the Kabyle region, one day after Algeria appealed to the European Union Civil Protection framework for help.
President Abdelmadjid Tebboune said Thursday in a televised address to the nation that two other planes from Spain are expected on Friday and another from Switzerland on Saturday.
In response to criticism over the slow response from the state, he said that Algeria “mobilized all the means of the military, the Civil Protection, forests’ services, but all these means happened to be insufficient given the multitude of fires.”
The victims of the blazes include at least 28 soldiers who were deployed to fight the fires, according to authorities.
Tebboune said a “solidarity fund” will provide some financial aid to families affected by the fires, which have destroyed homes, olive groves and animals that provide a livelihood for the region.
He said authorities believe that the blazes started from illegal activity, especially in the Kabyle region.
“The heat wave is part of it, but we have formal evidence that criminals have set devastating fires and 22 people have been arrested by security forces.”
Tebboune declared a three-day mourning period for the fire victims starting Thursday.
Prime Minister Aïmene Benabderrahmane, who visited on Thursday Tizi-Ouzou, the regional capital of Kabyle, said “for the moment, the most important is to extinguish (the fires) and above all, to take care of the population.”
Like southern Europe, North Africa has been sweltering under searing heat. Temperatures hit 50 C (122 F) in Tunisia, a record high for the country. The last previous high was 48.2 C (nearly 119 F) in 1968.
Algeria’s National Meteorology Office said extremely hot weather was forecast through Thursday in nearly a dozen regions, including around Tizi-Ouzou. In some places, the temperature was expected to hit 47 degrees Celsius (116.6 F.)
Climate scientists say there’s little doubt climate change from the burning of coal, oil and natural gas is driving extreme events such as heat waves, droughts and wildfires, which they say are likely to happen more frequently as Earth warms.
Follow AP’s coverage of climate change issues at https://apnews.com/hub/climate-change
Copyright © 2021 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, written or redistributed.