Algeria’s president announced that 25 soldiers have been killed saving residents from the wildfires ravaging forests and villages east of the capital, adding to the fire death toll this week in the North African nation.
President Abdelmadjid Tebboune tweeted late on Tuesday that the soldiers saved 100 citizens from the blazes in two areas in the mountainous Kabylie region, home of the Berbers. Four other soldiers were seriously burned fighting the fires and seven others also had burns, the Ministry of National Defence said.
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The interior ministry said earlier that the fires had killed at least seven civilians.
Dozens of blazes sprang up Monday in the Kabylie region and elsewhere, and Algerian authorities sent in the army to help citizens battle blazes and evacuate.
Multiple fires were burning through forests and devouring the olive trees, cattle and chickens that provide the livelihoods of families in the Kabylie region.
Interior Minister Kamel Beldjoud travelled to Kabylie to assess the situation.
“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, appearing to suggest arson.
“Thirty fires at the same time in the same region can’t be by chance,” Beldjoud said on national television, although no arrests were announced.
Other northern areas of Algeria also had active wildfires. The Civil Protection authority said on Algerian radio that seven people had died, six in Kabylie and a man in his 80s trying to save his animals in the Setif region to the east.
It counted 41 blazes in 18 wilayas, or regions, as of Monday night, with 21 of them burning around the Kabyle capital of Tizi Ouzou.
The online media outlet TSA said up to 11 people had been killed in the blazes, including those in Kabylie. Many started Monday, spurred on by high temperatures and wind.
‘Part of me is gone’
A 92-year-old woman living in the Kabyle mountain village of Ait Saada said the scene on Monday night looked like “the end of the world”.
“We were afraid,” Fatima Aoudia told The Associated Press news agency. “The entire hill was transformed into a giant blaze.”
Like other older adults quoted by Algerian media, Aoudia compared the scene to bombings by French troops during Algeria’s brutal independence war, which ended in 1962.
“These burned down forests. It’s a part of me that is gone,” Aoudia said. “It’s a drama for humanity, for nature. It’s a disaster.”
The defence ministry said on Tuesday that soldiers were sent into four regions, including Kabylie, the day before to help battle the blaze and evacuate trapped residents. Bulldozers were brought in to cut firebreaks into thick forests.
Climate scientists have said there is little doubt climate change from the burning of coal, oil and natural gas is driving extreme events, such as heatwaves, droughts, wildfires, floods and storms.
A worsening drought and heat – both linked to climate change – are driving wildfires in the US West and Siberia. Extreme heat is also fuelling the massive fires in Greece and Turkey.
The Kabyle region, 100km (60 miles) east of Algeria’s capital of Algiers, is dotted with difficult-to-access villages and water is in short supply during the hot season.