Dozens Die as Fires Rage Across Algeria

Algerian officials are blaming arsonists for setting many of the fires raging in a mountainous region east of the capital Algiers and in more than a dozen other provinces. Algerian state TV says that 65 people have been killed so far.

Fires raged Tuesday and into Wednesday in the mountainous region of Tizi Ouzou as fire crews, soldiers and ordinary residents tried to douse the flames before they spread further. Algerian media reported that at least 79 major fires were burning in at least 17 provinces of the country.

While the fires reportedly began Monday, many more appeared to ignite Tuesday, prompting the country's Interior Minister Kamel Beldjoud to insist that many had been set by arsonists.

He said that some experts are arguing these fires were deliberately set, what obviously would be criminal in nature because it's impossible for dozens of fires to ignite at almost the same time without some criminal hand being behind these acts.

At least three arsonists have been captured by Algerian security services during the past several months after several other fires were ignited. Many Western media outlets are downplaying the arson claims and blaming "wildfires," "excessive heat," or "global warming."

Ali Mahmoudy, head of the Algerian Forest Department, told state TV that many of the fires ignited suddenly and about the same time Tuesday, leading to speculation that many were deliberately set.

He said that initially there were five fires in the Tizi Ouzou region and then suddenly after 2 p.m. the number of fires started going up hour after hour and in some cases minute after minute, until there were 58 fires burning.

Canal Algerie, a French Algerian TV network, warned residents of the country "to be vigilant, vigilant, vigilant" and keep an eye out for anyone setting fires. It also thanked the military and fire crews for their "valiant efforts in extinguishing the fires and saving lives."

An Algerian military commander was shown on amateur video ordering his soldiers into a region engulfed with flames to try and save residents who were trapped in their houses. At least 28 soldiers have been killed in the ongoing fires.

Algerian Prime Minister Ayman Benabderrahmane told Algerians in a televised address Tuesday night that all efforts were being made by the government to compensate those who have lost family members, their homes or livestock.

He said that a government delegation is visiting the regions hit by fire to determine the size of the losses from the disaster.

Algerian media reports the government has contacted a number of regional countries to seek help with planes equipped to combat the blazes. Major fires also are raging in Greece, Turkey, Lebanon and Syria.

Source: Voice of America