Algeria Blames Forest Fires on Arson, Death Toll Rises to 24

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People attempt to put out a fire in the mountainous Tizi Ouzou province, east of Algiers, Algeria August 10, 2021.
People attempt to put out a fire in the mountainous Tizi Ouzou province, east of Algiers, Algeria August 10, 2021. Credit: ABDELAZIZ BOUMZAR/ REUTERS

Algeria's government on Tuesday said arsonists were responsible for dozens of forest fires that have killed 24 people, including 18 military men, and destroyed homes east of the capital.

Plumes of smoke rose from pockets of fire in the forest in Tizi Ouzou region on Tuesday, while residents used tree branches and hurled water from plastic containers in an attempt to put out the flames however they could.

Several houses were burnt and families were escaping to hotels, youth hostels and university residences, witnesses said, as the dense smoke hampered the visibility of fire crews.

"We had a horror night. My house is completely burnt," said Mohamed Kaci, who had fled from Azazga village to a hotel with his family.

Interior Minister Kamel Beldjoud said an investigation would be launched to identify those behind the blazes as he put the death toll at six.

The defense ministry later said in a statement 18 military men died and seven had been injured as they tried to extinguish fires.

"Only criminal hands can be behind the simultaneous outbreak of about 50 fires across several localities of the province," the minister said on state television.

Firefighters and the army were still trying to contain the blazes, and Beldjoud said the priority was to avoid more victims. He vowed to compensate those affected.

Smaller fires were also ravaging forests in at least 13 provinces since Monday night.

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