Sixteen fires are still burning across seven districts but those in worst-hit eastern areas, El Tarf and Souk Ahras, are under control, officials say.

Residents inspect the damaged area of El Tarf region, near the northern Algerian-Tunisian border.
Residents inspect the damaged area of El Tarf region, near the northern Algerian-Tunisian border. (AP)

Algerian firefighters have brought under control a string of forest blazes that have killed at least 38 people including 12 who died in a bus trapped by the flames.

Fire service spokesman Farouk Achour told the AFP news agency late on Thursday that 16 fires were still burning across seven districts but that those in the worst-hit eastern areas, El Tarf and Souk Ahras, were under control.

In Souk Ahras, a large crowd gathered to mourn five members of the same family who perished in the flames.

At least 38 people have been killed including more than 10 children and 10 firefighters, according to multiple sources, including local journalists and the fire service.

Most were in the El Tarf region near Algeria's eastern border with Tunisia, an area that has been sweltering in 48 degrees Celsius heat.

At least 200 more people have suffered burns or respiratory problems, according to various Algerian media.

READ MORE: Dozens dead as forest fires spread in northern Algeria

Annual scourge

Deadly fires have become an annual scourge in Algeria, where the climate crisis has turned large areas of forest into a tinderbox in the blistering summer months.

Authorities have been accused of being ill-prepared, with few firefighting aircraft available despite record casualties in last year's blazes and a cash windfall from gas exports amid soaring global energy prices.

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

Authorities have rented a Russian water bomber, but it broke down and is not expected to be operational again until Saturday, Interior Minister Kamel Beldjoud said. The civil protection service and the army have access to several firefighting helicopters.

READ MORE: Fatalities in northern Algeria forest fires rise

'The forest is weakened' 

On Thursday, Prime Minister Aimene Benabderrahmane defended the government's response, saying that the country had ordered four new firefighting aircraft –– but that they would not be available until December.

He added that strong winds had exacerbated the blazes and said authorities were "deploying all their means" to extinguish them.

Retired academic and forestry expert Rafik Baba-Ahmed said in a video published on social media that "winds of over 90 kilometres per hour make the work of water bombers difficult if not impossible".

He said bad land management had added to the problem, adding, "today, the forest is weakened. It has been chipped away at."

Source: AFP