ALGIERS, Algeria — At least 25 Algerian soldiers were killed saving residents from wildfires ravaging mountain forests and villages east of the capital, the president said Tuesday night as the civilian death toll from the blazes rose to at least 17.
President Abdelmadjid Tebboune tweeted that the soldiers saved 100 people from the fires in two areas of Kabyle, the region that is home to the North African nation’s Berber population. Eleven other soldiers were burned fighting the fires, four of them seriously, the Defense Ministry said.
Prime Minister Aïmene Benabderrahmane later said on state TV that 17 civilians had lost their lives, bringing the total death toll to 42. He provided no details.
The Kabyle region, about 60 miles east of Algeria’s capital, Algiers, is dotted with difficult-to-access villages. Some villagers fled, while others tried to hold back the flames themselves, using buckets, branches and rudimentary tools. The region has no water-dumping planes.
The prime minister told state television that initial reports from security services showed the fires in Kabyle were “highly synchronized,” adding that it “leads one to believe these were criminal acts.” Interior Minister Kamel Beldjoud, who traveled to Kabyle, also blamed the fires on arson.
No details were immediately released to explain the high death toll among the military.
Dozens of blazes sprang up Monday in Kabyle and elsewhere, and Algerian authorities sent in the army to help citizens battle blazes and evacuate. A 92-year-old woman living in the Kabyle mountain village of Ait Saada said the scene Monday night looked like “the end of the world.”
“We were afraid,” Fatima Aoudia told The Associated Press. “The entire hill was transformed into a giant blaze.”
Climate scientists say there is little doubt climate change from the burning of coal, oil and natural gas is driving extreme events, such as heat waves, droughts, wildfires, floods and storms. A worsening drought and heat, both linked to climate change, are driving wildfires in the American West and Russia’s northern region of Siberia. Extreme heat is also fueling the massive fires in Greece and Turkey.