At least 38 people have died as a result of fires in northern Algeria, including 12 who died on a bus trapped by flames.

Firefighters have been battling a string of blazes, fanned by drought and a blistering heatwave.

Deadly forest fires have become an annual scourge in the North African country, which is facing the harsh realities of climate change.

According to multiple sources, including local journalists and the fire service, at least 38 people have been killed, including more than ten children, mostly in the El Tarf region near Algeria's eastern border with Tunisia which experienced 48 degrees heat.

At least 200 more people have suffered burns or respiratory problems from the smoke, according to local media.

A journalist in El Tarf described "scenes of devastation" on the road to El Kala in the country's far north-east.

"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.

State television reported this morning that Prime Minister Ayman Benabderrahmane was visiting the area.

Members of the civil defence enter the forest

Firefighters were also battling a large blaze in the mountainous area of Souk Ahras, a journalist in the area told AFP.

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

Algerian TV 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.

Lack of aircraft

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 north of the country.

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

Authorities have rented a Russian Beriev BE 200 water bomber airplane, but it has suffered a breakdown and is not expected to be operational again until Saturday, according to interior minister Kamel Beldjoud.

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.

Algeria had agreed to buy seven firefighting aircraft from Spanish firm Plysa, but cancelled the contract following a diplomatic row 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 Mr Beldjoud, who said some had been caused by arson.