According to a “provisional report” by the North African country’s interior minister, a forest fire in eastern Algeria has killed 26 people. Local media put the death toll at 40, but officials did not immediately confirm those figures.
Most of the victims were reported in the Vilaya or area of El Tarf near the northern Algerian-Tunisian border, where 24 people were found dead, eight of whom were caught in flames on a public bus as it passed through a was driven from mountainous areas.
Interior Minister Kamel Beldjoud also said on public television late Wednesday that two people had died in the Setif region, about 185 miles east of Algiers.
On Wednesday, 39 fires had broken out in 14 areas, including 16 in Al Taraf, and since early August more than 12 square miles of forest and brush had been ravaged by the flames, he said.
In a televised statement, Beldjod said warm air temperatures of more than 117 degrees Fahrenheit and dry conditions were helping to contain the fire.
President Abdelmadjid Tebboune expressed his condolences and solidarity with the victims. He said the Algerian state would use “all human and material resources” to end the wildfires and that the families of those who died or whose homes were affected “will receive compensation.”
Last year, 104 people, including 33 soldiers, were killed in Algeria in a massive fire. In mid-June, Algerian authorities leased a firefighting aircraft from Russia for three months.
Record-setting heat waves and drought conditions have spread across much of southern Europe and northern Africa this summer, triggering wildfires. The week has brought a dramatic drop in temperatures and some much-needed rain in European countries, but in some areas it came so fast and heavy that flash floods became a problem.
Scientists have attributed rapidly increasing heat waves and drought patterns to climate change, worsened by human activity, and experts say things are only expected to get worse.