Forest fires in Algeria killed 65 people on Tuesday, including 28 soldiers deployed to help put out the blaze, the state-run Algeria Press Service (APS) and Algerian media said.
Twelve soldiers remain in critical condition after the fires broke out in the mountainous region of the country, the military said according to Algeria’s private Ennahar channel.
A severe heatwave of 48 degrees Celsius (over 118 Fahrenheit) was recorded in the areas of the fire, while almost 1000 civil defense workers continued battling the blaze, Ennahar said on Tuesday.
Dozens of separate fires have raged through forest areas across northern Algeria since Monday night and Interior Minister Kamel Beldjoud accused arsonists of igniting the flames, without providing more details on the allegations.
“Only criminal hands can be behind the simultaneous outbreak of about 50 fires across several localities,” he said.
Wildfires in the northern Algerian region are not uncommon, with blazes reported every year, however the fire that started on August 9 remains one of the most widespread in recent memory.
Last week, a European Union atmosphere monitor said the Mediterranean had become a wildfire hotspot as massive blazes engulfed forests in Turkey and Greece, aided by a heatwave.
Residents of the Tizi Ouzou region in Kabylie used tree branches to try to smother burning patches of forest or hurled water from plastic containers in a desperate effort to douse the fire, Reuters reported.
The soldiers were killed in different areas, some while trying to extinguish the flames and others after they were cut off by the spreading fire, Kabylie residents said. The Defense Ministry said more soldiers had been badly injured with burns.
Several houses were burnt as families were escaping to hotels, youth hostels and university residences, witnesses said, adding that a dense smoke hampered the visibility of fire crews.
“We had a horror night. My house is completely burnt,” said Mohamed Kaci, who had fled with his family from the village of Azazga to a hotel.
CNN’s Mostafa Salem reported from Abu Dhabi and Francesco Pitzalis from London. Additional reporting by Reuters.