Algiers, Algeria — Wildfires raging in the forests of eastern Algeria have killed 26 people, according to a “provisional report” by the north African country’s interior minister. Local media put the death toll close to 40, but those figures were not immediately confirmed by officials.
Most victims were reported in the wilaya, or region, of El Tarf, near the northern Algerian-Tunisian border, where 24 people have been found dead, including eight of them on a public bus caught up in the flames as it was drove through a mountainous region.
Interior Minister Kamel Beldjoud also said on public television late Wednesday that two people died in the region of Setif, about 185 miles east of Algiers.
He noted that on Wednesday that 39 fires had started in 14 regions, including 16 in El Tarf, and that more than 12 square miles of forest and brush had been ravaged by blazes since the beginning of August.
In a televised statement Beldjoud saidin excess of 117 degrees Fahrenheit and dry conditions were helping to fuel the blazes.
President Abdelmadjid Tebboune expressed his condolences and solidarity with the victims. He said the Algerian state would use “all human and material resources” to put an end to the wildfires and that families of people who died or whose homes were affected would “get compensation.”
Last year, major wildfires killed 104 people in Algeria, including 33 soldiers. In mid-June, Algerian authorities rented a firefighting aircraft for three months from Russia.
Record setting heat waves and drought conditions have spread across much of southern Europe and North Africa this summer, fueling a rash of wildfires. This week has brought a dramatic drop in temperatures and some much-needed rain in European nations, but in some areas it came so fast and heavy that flash floods became the problem.
Scientists have blamed the pattern of increasingly extreme heat waves and drought onworsened by human activity, and experts say things are only .