Algeria: Forest Fires in Algeria and the Case of the Domanial Forest of Bou-Taleb, Setif (IFFN No. 22 – January 2000)

Forest Fires in Algeria and the Case of the Domanial Forest of Bou-Taleb, Setif

(IFFN No. 22 – April 2000, p. 9-15)


Introduction

Among the factors that threaten the forests of Algeria fire constitutes the most dangerous factor and causes severe ecological, economic and, sometimes, human losses. Within some hours fire destroys what has naturally grown over years and centuries.

In Algeria, the fire statistics established for nine years (1979-1987) provide an average of 37,000 ha of burned surface (Tab.1) (Madoui 1988). Seen its negative aspects, fire is considered like a curse of which we must face periodically. The forest law (forest code) clearly state the struggle against forest fires being a duty of all citizen.

Tab.1. Statistics of fires in forest and non-forest lands (scrub, brushwood, Alfa) during the period 1979-87.
Source: Ministry for Water Resources and Forestry, Algeria (1987).

Year

Number of Fires

Burned surface (ha)

Total burned area (ha)

Average area burned (ha)

Forest Land

Non-Forest Land

1979

361

15,663

95

15,758

43.65

1980

730

19,731

7,215

26,946

36.91

1981

796

8,982

7,378

16,360

20.55

1982

638

7,354

2,027

9,381

14.70

1983

990

13,3042

87,528

220,570

222.80

1984

562

1,398

2,981

4,379

7.79

1985

747

1,757

3,274

5,031

6.73

1986

1,170

7,920

3,689

11,609

9.92

1987

1,321

10,439

12,862

23,301

17.64

Total

7,315

206,286

127,049

333,335

45.57

Every year a considerable budget is assigned for the active control of forest fires. However, fires continue to affect large vegetated areas. The data of 1983 are unforgettable in the memories of foresters and firemen. This situation was the reason why we conducted the survey presented in this paper to contribute data on forest fires in Algeria and particularly in mountains of Bou-Taleb. From an ecological point of view Bou-Taleb is a primordial importance because it acts as a natural barrier between the influences of the desert and the city of Setif. The mountains are occupied by the most important plant formations in Algeria with tree species such as cedar (Cedrus libanotica ssp. atlantica (Manetti)Holm.), oak (Quercus rotundifolia Lamk.), and pine (Pinus halepensis Mill.).

Characterisation of the Survey Zone

Being located in a distance of about 50 km inland from the coastline the massif of Bou-Taleb is situated between the high plains of Setif in the north and the basin of Hodna in the south. It is part of the mountain chain of Hodna and constitutes an important mountain link but is well fragmented in its oriental part (Fig.1).

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Fig.1. Fire locations in the massif Bou-Taleb

The existence many chaabet (chaâba = ravine) and the relatively elevated altitude of these djebels give the massif of Bou-Taleb an extremely intersected relief in its whole. Prevailing steep slopes in its southern part and the sparse vegetative cover encouraged significant hydric erosion after summer downpours. From the climatic viewpoint the lower altitudes are characterized by a semi-arid bioclimate with cool winters in the north, cold winters in the south, and very cold winters in the sub-humid high altitudes. The average annual precipitation ranges between 300 and 600 mm. The dry season is longer at low altitudes and can last up to five months; in the higher altitudes a short dry season usually does not exceed three months.

State of Forest Fires in the Domanial Forest of Bou-Taleb

The number of forest fires recorded in Bou-Taleb, compared to the data noted by Boudy (1955), is in rise since the independence, but irregularly. To highlight this observation, two statistical overviews on fire occurrence have been established for this region. The first concerns the period before the independence and covers the period 1907 to 1957; the second concerns the period after the independence for the period 1971 to 1991 (Tab.2).

During the first period of 51 years, 77 fires have been recorded in Bou-Taleb which destroyed a surface of more than 14,15O hectares, with an average of 1.5 fires per year and an annual mean surface burned of 277 ha. During this period half of the forest vegetation of Bou-Taleb has been devastated (49.76%).

Among the total of all fires recorded half of the number of fires (38 fire locations) devastated six main districts located all on the South flanks of the massif: Kef Haoumars (8 fires); Bou-Rièche (7 fires); Afghan, Thniet Sefra, and Chaabet Khrouf with 6 fires each and finally the Grouve canton with 5 fires. The surfaces affected, however, are relatively small as compared to the total fire occurrence.

Tab.2. Distribution of fires by canton (district) in the domanial forest of Bou-Taleb

Period

1907-1957 (51 years)

1971-1991 (21 years)

Cantons
(Districts)

Number

Burned surface
(ha)

Number

Burned surface
(ha)

Kef Haoumar

8

836

1

5

Bou-Rièche

7

17

5

4

Afghane

6

8

3

11

Thniet Sefra

6

8

3

30

Chaabet Khrouf

6

181

3

9

Grouve

5

3

3

11

Bou-Ich

1

1,004

4

24

Tinzert

1

167

5

10

Total

40

2,224

27

104

 

It must be noted that in the years 1956 and 1957 the largest burned areas was recorded (10,300 ha) which corresponds to 73% of the total area burned; they corresponded to the war of Algeria (Madoui 1995).

On the other hand the fire statistics for the second period (21 years) show that 63 fires have been recorded in Bou-Taleb which destroyed more than 511 ha, with an average of three fires by year and a yearly mean surface of 24 ha.

The distribution of these fires in the massif, by canton, is irregular and have affected almost all mountains (Fig.1). Table 2 shows that the Bou-Rièche cantons, Tinzert, and Bou-Ich are most affected. In the period of 21 years, these cantons recorded 5 fires and 5 and 4 fires respectively, with the burned surfaces distinctly lower than the mean, except for the Bou-Ich canton.

The canton which recorded the largest burned surface is Chaabet Said and a small part of canton Bou-Rhioul with 225 ha devastated by only one fire. In the massif these two cantons are colonised by a green oak scrub (Quercus rotundifolia Lamk.) mixed with juniper (Juniperus oxycedrus L.). In some places juniper is dominating. This type of population is not as vulnerable to fires as pine populations but the fire has been encouraged by two favourable factors, the violent winds (sirocco) and a rich and very abundant herbaceous stratum (notably Aegylops ovata Eig., Cynosurus elegans Desf., Echinaria capitata (L.) Desf.).

Come then cantons, Arrhas, Afghan, Chaabet Khrouf, Hadjar Labiod, Thniet Sefra, Oued-guebala, Grouve, Makhrouze with three fires each. Among them, the Oued-Guebala canton is most sensible. Within 21 years more than 72 ha have been affected by fires. One of the major reason was the lack of accessibility (lack of forest roads) which made fire suppression extremely difficult.

All reports are in agreement concerning species affected by fire. As indicated by Le Houerou (1973) and Quezel (1980) Aleppo Pine (Pinus halepensis Mill.) is mainly affected, followed mostly by green oak (Quercus rotundifolia Lamk.) and (or) Juniper (Juniperus oxycedrus L.). According to Boudy (1955), the Algerian pine populations attract fire.

Causes of Fires

Vegetation fires are rarely ignited by natural causes. In Bou-Taleb, for instance, no single fire has been caused by lightning, the only possible natural fire cause. The activities of humans, either directly or indirectly, are exclusively causes of wildfires (Boudy 1952).

The statistical data for the 15-year period 1977 to 1991, for which we have almost complete information, show the importance of the unknown origin of fires. Unknown caused fires represent 82% of all cases; they consumed more than 409 ha, equivalent to 94% of the burned surface. Ranking net are fires caused by carelessness, mainly by smokers who throw glowing cigarettes or matches which act as embers in the wind. This category of causes is weak in Bou-Taleb by only representing 6% of all cases.

Another underlying cause of fire are conflicts between residents and forest authorities. Those residents and forest owners who had been penalised by forest rangers due to violation of laws, such as illegal grazing or wood cutting, start fires as an act of revenge. This category of causes is hidden in category unknown and most likely represent a considerable part.

Evolution of Fire Causes in Space and Time

Since our figures established for the domanial forest of Bou-Taleb for a period of 15 years are significant, we considered it useful to compare them with other, more ancient statistics.

The comparison of our present data to those recorded before the independence allows to reconstruct the long-term evolution of fire causes (Tab.3).

Tab.3. Comparison of fire causes (%) during the two observation periods1907-1957 and 1977-1991.

Causes of forest fires

Period
1907-1957

Period
1977-1991

Natural causes

Lightning

2.60 %

  Negligence

Smokers
Hunters of honey
Other

51.95 %

17.78 %

Arson

7.79 %

  Unknown causes

37.66 %

82.22 %

The first observation reveals that there is a big difference between the two periods. We have an increase at the level of percentages of the unknown origin fires and reduction at the level of those of fires caused by carelessness. Following explanations are possible:

  • the increase of causes declared of unknown origin maybe due to insufficient investigations to determine the real causes and to rigorously enforce sanctions;

  • forest management is less intensive, and supervision is more superficially than in the early days, probably because of decreased productivity and the general loss of economic interest; and

  • the reduction of the carelessly started fires may be explained by the fact that currently the forest is less inhabited than in the earlier days when rural activities involved a higher fire risk.

The comparison of present fire cause statistics with earlier statistics reveal several tendencies (Tab.4). It seems that before independence the share of unknown cause is lower than at present: 37.7% versus 82%. On the other side the share of 52% of carelessly caused fires were much higher than at present (17.8%). However, the large fires are caused by arson. This category represents 7.8% of all fire causes before the independence versus 0% after. However, actually this category of causes nowadays would be more important if investigations had been conducted more rigorously by the concerned services; this fact explains the elevated percentage of unknown causes.

Tab.4. Vegetation fires in the forest massif of Bou-Taleb: causes, frequencies, and burned surfaces.
Source: Local fire reports.

Period

1907-1957 (51 years)

1977-1991 (15 years)

Fire Causes

Number

%

Surface burned

Number

%

Surface burned

(ha)

%

(ha)

%

Negligence

40

51.9

1115.1241

7.9

8

19.8

25.4700

5.9

Unknown

29

37.7

543.8502

3.8

37

82.2

409.0831

94.1

Arson

6

7.8

12200.0000

86.2

Lightning

2

2.6

290.4500

2.1

Total *

77

100

13949.4243

100

45

100

434.5531

100

* The difference in the total is due of absence of information for some years; so they are not included in this data.

It is noteworthy to mention lighting-caused fires. The share before the independence was 2.6% of the total number of fires whereas they are absent to our time. One of the possible explanations is that climate changed from more humid to dry.

Seasonality of Forest Fires

Before independence the occurrence of fires was distributed fairly balanced all over the year. Among the 77 fires recorded in Bou-Taleb only 36 were recorded in summer (46.7%), 31 into spring (40.3%) and only 10 (13%) in winter (Tab.5).

This distribution of fire occurrences all year round maybe explained by the role the domanial forest of Bou-Taleb played to meet the needs of the local population, especially during the extreme exploitation phase during World War II. According to Boudy (1955) 140,000 steers of green oak and pine and 8,300 m3 of pine wood were harvested at that time.

Tab.5. Distribution of fires by season

Period

1907-1957 (51 years)

1971-1991 (21 years)

Seasons

Number of fires

Percentage
%

Number of fires

Percentage
%

Summer

36

46.7

56

88.9

Winter

10

13.0

3

4.8

Spring

31

40.3

34

6.3

Total

77

100

63

100

Currently most reported fires in Bou-Taleb (88.9%) take place in the hot summer months June to September, a period during which the forest is frequently visited for grazing, collecting honey, and picking fruits. The remainder of fires takes place at the end of the spring and the beginning of the winter with 6.4% and 4.8% respectively of all cases.

Most fires start in July (41%), mainly during daytime. The concentration of fires is between 09:00h and 18:00h with 50 fires equalling 92.6% of the total number. The majority of fires (43, equalling 79.6%) occur between 11:00h and 17:00h. Only 4 fires (7.4%) occur at night between 21:00h and 08:00h in the morning. It must be assumed that fires started by carelessness start during daytime while night fires can be mainly arson fires (Ministry for Water Resources and Forestry, Algeria 1987).

Conclusions

Fires in forest and other vegetation are a common feature in Mediterranean ecosystems, including in the biogeographical region of Algeria, and have contributed to shape vegetation composition and model landscapes. With the modern increase of wildfire frequency a catastrophic dimension has been reached and it is time to think seriously about taking action to reduce the negative impacts of fire. The statistical approach presented in this paper contributes towards a better understanding of the role and causes of fires and will facilitate the search for solutions. As Effenterre (1990) points out, an analysis of the vegetation types affected by fire allows to determine the need for reforestation including the selection of species which are best adapted to a fire environment. Action must be taken.

 

Amar Madoui
Faculty of Sciences, Department of Biology
University Ferhat ABBAS of Setif
19000 Setif
ALGERIA

Fax: ++213-5-939920 or 857700
e-mail: Mado_amar@yahoo.fr

 

References

Boudy, P. 1952. Guide forestier en Afrique du Nord. Ed. La maison rustique., 505 p. Paris.
Boudy, P. 1955. Economie forestière nord-africaine. Tome IV. Description forestière de l’Algérie et de la Tunisie. 483 p., Ed. Larose, Paris.
Le Houerou, H.N. 1973. Fire and vegetation in the Mediterranean basin. Proceedings Annual Tall Timbers Fire Ecology Conference 13, 237-277. Tall Timbers Research Station, Tallahassee, Florida.
Madoui, A. 1987. Rapport entre les facteurs du milieu et le risque d’incendie. Cas de la forêt domaniale de Bou-Taleb (Sétif). Mem. D.E.S., Inst. Biol., Univ. Sétif, 51 p. + annexes, notice explicative et 06 cartes au 1:20,000.
Madoui, A. 1988. History of the last ten years of fire in Algeria. Post-graduate report, 10p.+ App.
Madoui, A. 1995. Contribution à l’étude de l’impact écologique des feux de forêts sur la végétation du massif forestier de Bou-Taleb (Sétif). Thèse de Magister, Inst. Bio. Univ. Sétif. 281 p.+Ann..
Ministry for Water Resources and Forestry, Algeria. 1987. Bilan des incendies de forêts en Algérie, 220 p.
Quezel, P. 1980. L’homme et la dégradation récente des forêts au Maghreb et au proche orient. Naturalia monspeliensia, N? Hors Série, 147-152.
Van Effenterre, C. 1990. Prévention des incendies de forêts. Statistique et politique. Rev. For. Fr. XLII, 20-32.

 

Appendix

Tab.6. Long-term forest fire statistics for Algeria: Period 1876 – 1915

Year

Number of Fires

Burnt Surface (x 1000 ha)

Year

Number of Fires

Burnt Surface (x 1000 ha)

1876

120

55,172

1896

179

14,091

1877

134

40,538

1897

396

79,203

1878

164

8,156

1898

150

12,384

1879

218

17,663

1899

272

16,099

1880

137

20,881

1900

162

2,937

1881

244

169,056

1901

135

9,687

1882

130

4,018

1902

475

141,141

1883

148

2,464

1903

388

94,398

1884

147

3,232

1904

244

2,759

1885

285

51,569

1905

255

7,676

1886

288

14,043

1906

219

9,126

1887

395

53,714

1907

211

4,457

1888

311

14,788

1908

344

6,54

1889

309

17,807

1909

278

9,751

1890

202

23,165

1910

482

24,294

1891

393

45,924

1911

322

16,309

1892

409

135,574

1912

338

26,505

1893

398

47,757

1913

696

138,191

1894

308

100,89

1914

362

43,305

1895

250

32,907

1915

237

19,35

 

Tab.7. Long-term forest fire statistics for Algeria: Period 1963 – 1991

Year

Number of Fires

Burnt Surface
(x 1000 ha)

Year

Number of Fires

Burnt Surface
(x 1000 ha)

1963

 

3,9233

1978

 

41,551672

1964

 

9,38572

1979

 

15,66256

1965

 

50,624281

1980

 

26,944609

1966

 

2,50343

1981

 

17,361391

1967

 

49,56148

1982

638

9,38176

1968

 

14,54981

1983

990

221,367

1969

 

13,31432

1984

562

4,73184

1970

 

30,43867

1985

747

4,6683

1971

 

57,83518

1986

1170

21,53775

1972

 

4,09776

1987

1321

23,300359

1973

 

34,53025

1988

1146

27,757801

1974

 

11,0025

1989

595

3,23666

1975

 

37,331

1990

911

28,046529

1976

 

19,945289

1991

1189

13,17615

1977

 

43,947

     


Country Notes
IFFN No. 22

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