Wildfires raging in the forests of eastern Algeria have killed at least 38 people and wounded hundreds of others

Wildfires raging in the forests of eastern Algeria have killed at least 38 people and wounded hundreds of others
A horror 'fire tornado' has killed at least 38 people in Algeria after it ripped through a wildlife park and incinerated 12 people trying to escape the flames in a bus.

Fanned by drought and a blistering heatwave, the blazes have left massive destruction in their wake, mostly in the El Tarf region near the eastern border with Tunisia that was baking in 48C heat.

A family of five was among the dead and at least 200 more people have suffered burns or respiratory problems from the smoke, according to various Algerian media.

A journalist in El Tarf described 'scenes of devastation' on the road to El Kala in the country's far northeast.

'A tornado of fire swept everything away in seconds,' he told AFP by telephone. 'Most of those who died were surrounded while visiting a wildlife park.'



Emergency services were still battling a blaze around Tonga lake, he said.

An AFP team in El Kala reported a strong smell of smoke and said authorities feared that strong winds could cause new fires to break out.

They also saw major damage in the wildlife park and a witness, who asked not to be named, said 12 people had been burned to death in their bus as they tried to escape.

Several roads in the area were closed.

A horror 'fire tornado' has killed at least 38 people in Algeria after it ripped through a wildlife park and incinerated 12 people trying to escape a flaming bus

A horror 'fire tornado' has killed at least 38 people in Algeria after it ripped through a wildlife park and incinerated 12 people trying to escape a flaming bus
'Most of the victims in El Tarf are vacationers who came to enjoy paradisiac beaches and enchanting landscapes,' Prime Minister Aimene Benabderrahmane said.

He and several government members arrived in El Tarf on Thursday. The prime minister said the Algerian state would support the victims' families and pay for renovation work and compensation for the loss of livestock and beehives. The region is also known for its farming industry.

As residents have lost their homes to the flames, authorities have been accused of being ill-prepared, with few firefighting aircraft available, despite record casualties in last year's blazes.

The justice ministry has launched an enquiry into the possibility that some of the blazes were started deliberately, after comments to that effect by Interior Minister Kamel Beldjoud.

One person died in Souk Ahras, south of El Tarf. Two other people died in the region of Setif, about 185 miles east of Algiers, the North African nation's capital.

A journalist described scenes of panic in the city of half a million people, where nearly 100 women and 17 newborn babies had to be evacuated from a hospital near the forest.

Algerian television showed people fleeing their burning homes, women carrying children in their arms. Local media said 350 people had fled their homes.

Some 39 blazes were ravaging various parts of northern Algeria, according to the fire service, and there were fears that hot winds could spark new ones that authorities are ill-equipped to fight.

Lines of trucks bringing food, water, blankets and clothes could be seen heading toward El Tarf. A crisis unit was set up to oversee the donations, Bensalem said.

The scenes sparked fears of a repeat of fires last year which killed at least 90 people and ravaged 100,000 hectares of forest and farmland in the country's north.

Last year's catastrophe provoked bitter criticism of authorities over the lack of fire-fighting aircraft.

Authorities have rented a Russian Beriev BE 200 water bomber plane, but it has suffered a breakdown and is not expected to be operational again until Saturday, Interior Minister Kamel Beldjoud said.

The civil protection service and the army do have access to several firefighting helicopters.

Experts have called for a major effort to bolster the firefighting capacity of Africa's biggest country, which has over four million hectares of forest.

One specialist, who asked not to be named, told AFP that in the 1980s the country had 22 Grumman aircraft for battling forest fires but that they had been 'sold on the cheap, without any alternative solution being proposed'.

Algeria had agreed to buy seven firefighting aircraft from Spanish firm Plysa, but cancelled the contract following a diplomatic row over the Western Sahara in late June, according to specialist website Mena Defense.

Since early August, 106 fires have broken out in Algeria, destroying 800 hectares of forest and 1,800 hectares of woodlands, according to Beldjoud, who said some had been caused by arson.

In a message of condolences, President Abdelmadjid Tebboune expressed solidarity with the victims. He said the Algerian state would use 'all human and material resources' to fight the fires and that families of people who died or whose homes were affected will 'get compensation.'