At least 25 soldiers died saving residents from wildfires ravaging mountain forests and villages east of Algeria's capital, the president announced Tuesday night as the civilian toll rose to at least 17. President Abdelmadjid Tebboune tweeted that the soldiers were “martyrs” who 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, raising the count of citizens from seven previously and bringing the total death toll to 42, the AP reports. He provided no details. Dozens of blazes sprang up Monday in Kabyle and elsewhere, and Algerian authorities sent in the army to help citizens battle blazes and evacuate.
The mountainous Kabyle region, 60 miles east of Algeria’s capital of 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 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 synchronized,” adding that “leads one to believe these were criminal acts.” Earlier, Interior Minister Kamel Beldjoud traveled 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, although no arrests were announced. The Civil Protection authority counted 41 blazes in 18 wilayas, or regions, as of Monday night.
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