The death toll in fires ravaging mountain forests and villages in Algeria’s Berber region rose to 65 people on Wednesday, including 28 soldiers, the country's civil protection authority said, up from 42 people and 25 soldiers on Tuesday.
President Abdelmadjid Tebboune said his North African nation would enter a three-day period of mourning starting Thursday that would include suspending all government activity except for actions of solidarity.
Dozens of fires began burning forested mountainsides in the Berber region of Kabyle, east of Algiers, the capital, on Monday, destroying village homes, olive tree orchards and animals that provide a livelihood for the region.
18 fires still active
The forestry director in Tizi-Ouzou, the regional capital, said on Wednesday that 18 fires remain active in the region. Dozens of fires burned elsewhere across the north, but their deadly force was concentrated in Kabyle.
There was no official explanation of the high death toll among soldiers but photos in Algerian media showed soldiers in their army fatigues with no protective firefighting clothing.
The prime minister and interior minister both said on Tuesday that arson was suspected in the Kabyle blazes, despite a heatwave and high winds fanning the flames.
North Africa has been sweltering under searing temperatures, including in neighbouring Tunisia where scattered fires in the east were reported.
Algeria’s National Meteorology Office reported high temperatures were expected through Thursday in nearly a dozen regions, including around Tizi-Ouzou. In some places, the thermometer was forecast to hit 47 degrees Celsius.
France to send aid
French President Emmanuel Macron said on Twitter that Paris would send aid to Algeria.
"As of tomorrow, two Canadairs and a command plane will be deployed in Kabylia, which is ravaged by violent fires," the French head of state wrote on Wednesday.
The Kabyle region, 100 kilometres east of Algeria’s capital of Algiers, is dotted with difficult-to-access villages and has 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.
Elsewhere in the world
Climate scientists say 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 fueling the massive fires in Greece and Turkey.