Fires in Algeria killed 42 people on Tuesday, including 25 soldiers deployed to put out the blaze, the government said, as thick smoke covered much of the mountainous Kabylie region east of the capital.
Since Monday night, dozens of separate fires have raged through forest areas throughout northern Algeria, and Interior Minister Kamel Beldjoud has accused arsonists of igniting the flames without providing further details.
According to him, only criminals could be responsible for the simultaneous outbreak of about 50 fires in several localities.
A European Union atmosphere monitor last week said the Mediterranean had become a wildfire hotspot as massive blazes engulfed forests in Turkey and Greece, fueled by a heatwave
Tizi Ouzou residents have thrown water from plastic containers to douse burning forests or smothered burning patches of forest with tree branches.
Kabylie residents said that the soldiers died in a variety of ways, some by trying to extinguish the flames and others by being cut off by the spread of the fire. More soldiers have been badly injured with burns, according to the Defence Ministry.
Several houses were burned as families escaped to hotels, youth hostels, and university residences, witnesses reported, adding that a dense smoke made it difficult for fire crews to see.
Mohamed Kaci, who fled his village of Azazga with his family to a palace hotel with his wife and four children, reacted with horror. “My house is completely burned,” he said.
Ayman Benabderrahmane said on state television on Tuesday night that the death toll had risen to 42, including 25 military members. It was in “advanced discussions with (foreign) partners to hire planes and speed up the process of extinguishing fires,” he said.
Despite the efforts of firefighters and the army to contain the fires, Beldjoud said the priority was preventing more deaths. He promised to compensate those affected.
At least 16 provinces of the North African nation have been ravaged by smaller fires since Monday night.