ALGIERS, Algeria – At least 25 Algerian soldiers were killed to save residents from forest fires that devastate mountain forests and villages east of the capital, the president said Tuesday evening as the civilian death toll rose to at least 17 from the fires.

President Abdelmadjid Tebboune tweeted that the soldiers had saved 100 people from the fires in two areas of Kabyle, the region where the Berbers of the North African nation live. Eleven other soldiers were burned while fighting the fires, four of them seriously, the Ministry of Defense said.

Prime Minister Aïmene Benabderrahmane later said on state television that 17 civilians lost their lives, bringing the total death toll to 42. He didn’t make any details.

The Kabyle region, about 60 miles east of Algeria’s capital, Algiers, is littered with inaccessible villages. Some villagers fled, others tried to hold back the flames themselves with buckets, branches and rudimentary tools. There are no water dumping planes in the region.

The prime minister told state television that initial reports from security services showed that the fires in Kabyle were “highly synchronized”, adding that this “leads one to believe that it is criminal activity”. Interior Minister Kamel Beldjoud, who had traveled to Kabyle, also blamed arson for the fires.

No details were immediately released to explain the high death toll in the military.

Dozens of fires broke out in Kabyle and elsewhere on Monday, and the Algerian authorities sent the army to help citizens fight the fires and evacuate. A 92-year-old woman who lives in the Kabyle mountain village of Ait Saada said the scene on Monday night looked like “the end of the world”.

“We were scared,” Fatima Aoudia told The Associated Press. “The entire hill has been turned into a huge flame.”

Climate scientists say there is little doubt that the burning of coal, oil and natural gas causes climate change to cause extreme events such as heat waves, droughts, forest fires, floods and storms. Worsening drought and heat, both related to climate change, are leading to forest fires in the American west and Russia’s northern region of Siberia. Extreme heat is also fueling the massive fires in Greece and Turkey.