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Wildfires have killed 34 people in Algeria and spread to Tunisia as a heatwave that has swept across the Mediterranean region sparked devastating flames that the authorities have struggled to control.
The blistering heat, which has fanned the wildfires that destroyed homes and caused the evacuation of thousands of tourists from the Greek island of Rhodes, has extended to dry and mountainous parts of northern Algeria and Tunisia, where fires have also broken out.
The near-record high temperatures around the Mediterranean this month have been attributed to climate change by scientists, who have warned that the region should be braced for more intense and longer-lasting heatwaves.
The Algerian interior ministry said on Monday that 10 soldiers battling the flames were among those killed. The coastal province of Béjaïa, east of the capital Algiers, had the highest number of casualties, with 22 people killed and about 200 injured, according to local news reports.
About 1,500 people have been evacuated from the worst-affected areas, according to the ministry, which said almost 100 fires had broken out in more than a dozen provinces. It said 8,000 firefighters were working to put out the flames fanned by temperatures that in some parts of the country neared 50C, according to local news reports.
Summer wildfires have become a regular occurrence in northern Algeria over recent years. Thirty-seven people died in forest fires last year while dozens of deaths were recorded in 2021 as flames raced through the forested mountains of the Kabylie region.
In neighbouring Tunisia, temperatures this week have reached as high as 49C in some towns near the border with Algeria, according to Reuters.
TAP, the official Tunisian news agency, said on Monday that devastating fires had encircled the village of Melloula in Jendouba province. The authorities were seeking to help people escape, with some being evacuated by boats.
Adel Abidi, director of civil protection in Jendouba, was cited by the agency as saying that the “situation is serious and frightening”. He attributed the resurgence of fires to the intense heatwave coupled with strong winds and the persistence of fire hotspots that broke out in the region last week.
According to TAP, army units were deployed in Melloula to contain the fires and assist the local population while the air force used military helicopters and C-130 aircraft to extinguish the fires that broke out near the Tabarka airport in the region.
Scorching temperatures are also being experienced in Egypt, where the authorities have been forced to introduce rotating power blackouts for the first time in several years amid soaring demand for electricity to power air conditioners.