25 soldiers and 17 civilians have died so far in more than 100 wildfires in Algeria, authorities said on Tuesday, adding that some of the fires had criminal origins.
More than 100 fires have been reported across 17 Algerian provinces, the country’s official APS news agency reported on Tuesday evening. The most intense fires are raging in the forested hills of the Kabylie region, east of the capital Algiers.
Photographs and videos posted on social media show walls of flame and billowing clouds of smoke towering over charred trees in the forests.
President Abdelmadjid Tebboune sent his condolences to the families of soldiers killed as they worked to rescue people in the areas of Bejaiea and Tizi Ouzou, the epicentre of the blazes.
“It is with great sadness that I have learned of the martyrdom of 25 soldiers after they were successful in rescuing around 100 citizens from the flames in the mountains of Bejaiea and Tizi Ouzou,” the president said.
At least another 14 soldiers were injured to varying degrees.
Seventeen civilians died in the Tizi Ouzou and Setif area, Prime Minister Aimene Benabderrahmane said late Tuesday.
The interior ministry suspects some of the fires were started deliberately.
“50 fires starting at the same time is impossible. These fires are of criminal origin,” Interior Minister Kamel Beldjoud said on a visit to Tizi Ouzou.
Public radio reported the arrest of three suspected arsonists in the northern district of Medea and another in Annaba, in relation to other fires.
Arson has been blamed for several major fires in recent years in Algeria.
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Last month, President Tebboune ordered a bill to stiffen punishments for starting a forest fire, with sentences of up to 30 years in prison — and possible life imprisonment, if the fire results in death.
Fires have caused devastation in several Mediterranean countries in recent days, including Greece, Turkey and Cyprus. They have also been raging in the western United States.
Meteorologists said temperatures of up to 46 degrees Celsius were forecast on Wednesday in Algeria. The country is already struggling with severe water shortages.
On Monday, the UN released a major report showing the threat from global warming is more acute than previously thought. It found human activity was changing the climate in new and sometimes irreversible ways.
Climate change amplifies droughts, creating ideal conditions for wildfires to spread out of control and inflict unprecedented material and environmental damage.