At least 32 people have been killed in wildfires that erupted in Algeria, including 25 soldiers trying to save residents from the blazes, the country’s officials have said.
The fires have been ravaging forests and villages east of the capital, Algiers, in the Kabyle region.
Prime Minister Ayman Benabderrahmane said the blazes appeared to be “highly synchronised,” saying that “leads one to believe these were criminal acts”.
Smoke rises from a forest fire in the mountainous Tizi Ouzou province, east of the Algerian capital, Algiers
He called on the international community to help and said the government was in talks with partners to hire planes to extinguish fires. The region has no water-dumping aircraft.
Algeria‘s president Abdelmadjid Tebboune said on Twitter that soldiers have saved more than 100 citizens from the blazes in the two areas of the mountainous region.
The fires happened in the Kabyle region, 100km (60 miles) east of Algeria’s capital of Algiers and it is dotted with difficult-to-access villages.
Some villagers were fleeing, while others tried to hold back the flames themselves, using buckets, branches and rudimentary tools.
A civil protection rescue worker walks near smoke rising from a forest fire in the mountainous Tizi Ouzou province
The deaths and injuries occurred around Kabyle capital of Tizi-Ouzou, which is flanked by mountains and in Bejaia, bordering the Mediterranean Sea, the president said.
Mr Benabderrahmane told state television that initial reports from security services showed the fires in Kabyle were “highly synchronized”.
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,” Mr Beldjoud said on national television, although no arrests have been announced.
The president has said the fires were “highly synchronized” and could be arson. Pic AP
A 92-year-old woman who lives in the Kabyle mountain village of Ait Saada said on Monday night the scene looked like “the end of the world”.
“We were afraid,” Fatima Aoudia said.
“The entire hill was transformed into a giant blaze.”
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Ms Aoudia compared the scene to bombings by French troops during Algeria’s 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.”