Algeria Wildfires: At least 42 people killed, including 25 soldiers who died saving residents

At least 42 people have been killed in wildfires ravaging mountain forests and villages east of Algeria’s capital, including 25 soldiers who died saving residents, the president announced.

President Abdelmadjid Tebboune on Tuesday night tweeted that the soldiers who died saving 100 people from the fires in two areas of the Kabyle region are “martyrs. Kabyle is home to the North African nation’s Berber population.

At least 11 other soldiers were burned fighting the fires, four of them seriously, the defence ministry said.

Prime Minister Aimene Benabderrahmane said on state TV that 17 civilians had died, raising the count from seven previously. He provided no details.

The mountainous Kabyle region, 100km east of the capital Algiers, is dotted with difficult-to-access villages and, with temperatures rising, has had limited water.

Some villagers were fleeing, while others tried to hold back the flames themselves, using buckets, branches and rudimentary tools. The region has no water-dumping planes.

The deaths and injuries on Tuesday occurred mainly around Kabyle’s capital of Tizi Ouzou, which is flanked by mountains, and also in Bejaia, which borders the Mediterranean Sea, the president said.

The prime minister told state television that initial reports from security services showed the fires in Kabyle were “highly synchronised,” adding that that “leads one to believe these were criminal acts”.

Earlier, interior minister Kamel Beldjoud travelled to Kabyle to assess the situation and also blamed the fires there on arson.

“Thirty fires at the same time in the same region can’t be by chance,” Beldjoud said on national television.