Firefighters and residents armed with simple tools battled a rash of forest fires in northern Algeria that the nation's interior minister said Tuesday have killed at least six people in the mountainous Kabyle region. He blamed “criminal hands” for some of the blazes.
Multiple fires were burning through forests and devouring the olive trees, cattle and chickens that provide the livelihoods of families. Interior Minister Kamel Beldjoud traveled to Kabyle, home of Berbers, to assess the situation.
“Thirty fires at the same time in the same region can’t be by chance,” Beldjoud said on national television.
Other areas of Algeria also had active wildfires. The Civil Protection authority said on Algerian radio that a total of seven people had died, six in Kabyle. 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 Kabyle. Many started Monday, helped by high temperatures and wind.
A 92-year-old woman living in the Kabyle mountain village of Ait Saada said the scene Monday night looked like “the end of the world.”
“We were afraid,” resident Fatima Aoudia told The Associated Press. “The entire hill was transformed into a giant blaze.”
Like older adults quoted by Algerian media, Aoudia compared the scene to bombings by French during the brutal independence war which ended in 1962.
“These burned down forests. It’s a part of me that is gone,” Aoudia told The Associated Press. “It’s a drama for humanity, for nature. It’s a disaster.”
The Kabyle region, located 100 kilometers (60 miles) east of Algeria's capital, is dotted with difficult to access villages and water is in short supply during the hot season.
Some villagers were fleeing, while others tried to hold back the flames themselves, using buckets, branches and other means. The region has no water-dumping planes.
A Civil Protection ambulance driver told the AP that the death toll in Kabyle was higher than the six victims cited by the interior minister. The driver asked not to be identified by name because he was not authorized to speak about the situation.
He said firefighters were arriving Tuesday from Algiers and four other cities.
“Fortunately,” he added. “The fire has just started up again” in Beni Yenni, a mountain village known for its Berber jewelry.