As forest fires blown by windy temperatures and dry-dry conditions flame through Algeria’s Kabylie region, the death toll has risen further. At least 65 people, including 25 soldiers, have died in fires that broke out east of the Algerian capital Algiers, state television reported on Wednesday.
Prime Minister Ayman Benabderrahmane had previously revealed that the death toll was 42 on Tuesday. He also told state television that the government had asked for help from the international community and was in talks with partners to hire aircraft to put out fires.
Earlier in the day, Interior Minister Kamel Beldjoud said the fires had killed at least seven people and noted that the fires were of criminal origin.
Photographs published on social media show large walls of low and billowing clouds of smoke towering over villages in the wooded hills of the Kabylie region, east of the capital Algiers.
Algeria is the latest Mediterranean country to be hit by forest fires, following fires in Greece, Turkey and Greek Cyprus.
Meteorologists said the temperature would hit 46 degrees Celsius (115 degrees Fahrenheit) on Tuesday, and the country is also battling severe water shortages.
Fires were reported in several places in 14 districts, 10 of them around Tizi Ouzou, one of the most populous cities in Kabylie.
Beldjoud said the fires had killed seven people, including six in the region around Tizi Ouzou and one in Setif.
“Fifty fires starting at the same time are impossible. These fires are of criminal origin,” said Beldjoud, who led a ministerial visit to Tizi Ouzou.
The city centers of Bouira, Setif, Khenchela, Guelma, Bejaia, Bordj Bou Arreridj, Boumerdes, Tiaret, Medea, Tebessa, Blida and Skikda were also affected by fires, the Civil Protection Directorate states on Twitter.
Major fires were also reported in Ait-Yenni, Azazga, Jijel and Yakourene.
Arson is suspected
Public radio reported the arrest of three suspected arsonists in Medea.
Arson has been blamed for several major fires in recent years.
Last month, President Abdelmadjid Tebboune ordered a tougher sentence to start a forest fire, with penalties of up to 30 years in prison – and possibly life in prison, if the fire leads to death.
In July, three people were arrested on suspicion of starting fires that destroyed 15 square kilometers of forest in the Auresberg.
In 2020, almost 440 square kilometers of forest were destroyed by fire, and several people were arrested on suspicion of arson.
On Monday, the UN released a major report showing how the threat of global warming is even more acute than previously thought.
It highlighted how researchers quantify the extent to which human-induced warming increases the intensity and / or probability of a specific extreme weather event, such as a heat wave or a wildfire.