ALGERIA, Algeria — At least 25 Algerian soldiers were killed while rescuing residents from forest fires that ravaged mountain forests and villages east of the capital, as the number of civilian deaths from the flames rose to at least 17 on Tuesday night, the President said.
President Abdelmadjid Tebboune tweeted that soldiers rescued 100 people from fires in two areas of Kabyle, home to the North African country’s Berber population. The Defense Department said 11 more soldiers were burned, four seriously, while fighting the fire.
Prime Minister Aïmene Benabderrahmane later told state television that 17 civilians were killed, bringing the total death toll to 42. He did not give detailed information.
About 60 miles east of Algeria’s capital city of Algiers, the Kabyle region is full of hard-to-reach villages. Some villagers fled, others tried to contain the flames themselves, using buckets, branches and primitive tools. There are no planes discharging water in the area.
The prime minister told state television that initial reports from the security services showed the fires at Kabyle were “extremely synchronized”, which “convinced people that these were criminal acts”. Home Minister Kamel Beldjoud, who went to Kabyle, also blamed the fires for arson.
Almost no details were disclosed to explain the high death rate in the military.
Dozens of fires broke out in Kabyle and elsewhere on Monday, and Algerian authorities sent the military to help citizens fight the flames and evacuate. A 92-year-old woman living in the mountain village of Kabyle of Ait Saada said the scene on Monday night looked like “the end of the world”.
“We were scared,” Fatima Aoudia told the Associated Press. “The whole hill turned into a giant flame.”
Climate scientists say there is little doubt that climate change from the burning of coal, oil and gas is triggering extreme events such as heat waves, droughts, wildfires, floods and storms. A worsening drought and heat, both linked to climate change, are causing wildfires in the American West and Russia’s northern Siberia. Extreme heat is also fueling large fires in Greece and Turkey.