1. Introduction: The forest environment and fire regimes
The forests of Morocco cover about nine million hectares, thereof forest formations (natural forests, plantation forests) cover 5,814,000 ha and alfa grasslands 3,186,000 ha.
The forest formation is dominated by broadleaved species (63.09 % or 3,668,000 ha), followed by conifers (20.14 % or 1,171,000 ha) and secondary species (16,17 % or 974,894 ha). Forest plantations cover 530,000 ha out of which 75 % (395,500 ha) are part of the forest fund (domaine forestier).
The forest land is an open space where access (except rare exceptions) is free. The population, especially those living at the forest edge, lives from subsistence economy (using forests for construction wood and firewood needs, the gathering of various non-timber forests products, and pasture). Consequently, forests are under a very strong human pressure and are overexploited.
This human pressure increases the fire risk, since Moroccan forests, as all Mediterranean forests, are extremely flammable, particularly during the summer season when the fuel moisture content of plants is very low.
2. Impacts of forest fires since 1990
The impact of fires is especially severe on forests. The economic loss of forest products (timber and NTFP) are estimated with 18 million DH (dirham) per year (approx. 1.8 million $US). However, considering the semi-arid climate conditions of a country like Morocco the impact on watersheds, soils, and biodiversity is much more significant.
3. Forest fire statistics
Number of fires and burned area
The fire situation during the years 1960 to 1999 is shown in Table 1 (number of forest fires and area burned) and Table 2 (Classification of areas burned by vegetation type and by burn size class for the period 1994-1999).
Table 1. Number of forest fires and area burned in Morocco during the period 1960-1999. For fire causes: see text. Note: The data 1994-1999 in the columns “forest burned” and “other wooded land and other land burned” were taken from Table 2. The FAO standard table format therefore has been changed.
Total No. of Fires on Forest, Other Wooded Land, & Other Land
Total Area Burned on Forest, Other Wooded Land, & Other Land
Area of Forest & Other Wooded Land Burned
Area of Other Land Burned
Table 2. Classification of areas burned by vegetation type and by burn size class for the period 1994-1999
1- Area burned [ha]:
* Forest and other wooded land
* Secondary species, alfa and herbaceous layer
* Tortal area affected by fire:
2- Number of wildfires by size class [S]:
S £ 1ha
1 < S £ 5 ha
5 < S £ 10 ha
10 < S £ 20 ha
20 < S £ 50 ha
50 < S £ 100 ha
100 < S £ 500 ha
500 < S £ 1000 ha
S >1000 ha
Total number of fires
It is often very difficult to determine the fire cause for the following essential reasons:
The very criminal character of the fire setting: according to Moroccan forest law, arson is heavily fined, even with imprisonment.
The multitude of stakeholders in forest areas: commercial loggers, logging sites, shepherds, farmers, bee-keepers, distillers of aromatic essences, illicit charcoal production, and hikers.
In general, the analysis of information and reports on forest fires allows the following conclusions:
more than 50% of the fires are of unknown cause,
more than 40% of the fires are due to negligence (burning of fields, honey collection, camp fires, vehicle exhausts, cigarettes, etc), and
10% of the fires are intentional (destruction of the forest for gaining agricultural land. This is the primary cause of forests fires in the north of the country).
It should be noted that the high percentage of fires of unknown cause renders it difficult to set up an efficient prevention policy.
Operational system for forest fire management
The current national forest fire policy is based on the following principles:
Reinforcement of the forest fire prevention, detection, and suppression. Within this framework, the Ministry of Forestry started following activities:
– Procurement and installation of the following equipment
Nine rapid intervention units (with 12 vehicles) with the prospect of setting up 52 units (104 vehicles)
14 400 km of forest access roads
1 700 km of fuel breaks
123 fire watchtowers
1 800 radios
– Signing of a convention with the Royal Gendarmerie for the use, in the event of a fire, of four turbo-prop planes with a water capacity of 1500 to 2000 litres each
– Establishment of a network with persons in charge of the Civil Protection equipment
Creation of water points in forests
Reinforcement of the fire surveillance system in the summer season by involving contributions of all partners responsible for forest fire fighting
Intensification of public awareness campaigns targeting the general public and forest dwellers, especially on preventive fire measures
Intensification of preventive silviculture programs
Adoption of a master plan for fire prevention and forest fire control in the Rif area (see appendix attached).
Before the fire season, the administration starts a certain number of activities, such as:
Sensitising and education of the public and the forest users by:
– the organisation of conferences on fires in central meeting places of the population in order to explain the precautions to be observed in the event of fire use in order to avoid a spreading into the forest
– The design and broadcasting of television and radio spots, films and posters
The reinforcement of forest surveillance
The implementation of stand-by watch service at all levels, i.e., for the nine Regional Directions of the Forest Service, 49 Divisions (Arrondissements), 49 Primary Forest Development Centres, 198 secondary Forest Development Centres, and 685 Forest Districts
The organisation of forest worker camps dispersed in the forest with the objective to have personnel available for the rapid interventions (initial attack) in the event of a fire
The co-operation with other administrations charged with the forest fire management, namely:
– The Ministry for Public Labour which takes part in the installation of traffic signs “ATTENTION – FIRE DANGER” along the routes which cross the forest
– The Railway Service (ONCF) which carries out the weeding along the railway which cross forest areas. It informs the passengers of the consequences of arson (throwing burning cigarette out the train windows)
– The civil aviation which helps to detect fires by its pilots
– The National Electricity Office (ONE) which weeds the area under powerlines crossing forest areas
– The Royal Gendarmerie with its aircraft (water helicopters and air tankers) takes care on the application of the law with regards to fire use
The National Meteorological Service which takes part at the development, during the fire season, of a special bulletin on the fire danger that is sent to the Forest Services to put the field staff in maximum alarm when the weather conditions are fire prone.
Use of prescribed fires in forestry
This possibility is not considered for the moment by the Ministry of Forestry due to the fact that the understorey, woody debris after logging operations and the grass in forests are used by local people and their livestock.
Practices employed to reduce the fire hazard and fire danger
Participation of the various services
According to Article 48 of the Dahir of 10 October 1917 on the Conservation and Use of Forests the local administration has the right of requisition and has the responsibility for all fire fighting activities. The personnel of the Forest Service, regardless their rank, must be at its disposal, assisting with all its technical know how.
This obligation does not, however, inflict on the following fundamental principle: “Any forester who notes or learns of a fire event, even a small fire, within his forest district, has the duty to reach immediately the site, while taking all necessary provisions to inform the local administration and his direct superior.” The forestry personnel of the Forestry Service is obliged to remain on the fire site until the final mop-up.
Starting on 1 June of each summer the following fire prevention measures are activated:
Posting (activation) of all fire lookouts
Checking of all telephone lines, telephone sets, and radios
Setting up a 24-hrs telephone or radio watch service at the following levels:
– Regional Directorate of the National Forestry Commission
– Provincial Service of the National Forestry Commission and Arrondissement
– Primary Forest Development Centres
– Secondary Forest Development Centres
– Forest districts
A list of the foresters in charge of the watch service on these levels will be submitted to the Ministry of Forestry. A list of telephone numbers will be also prepared. The list must contain the telephone numbers of all levels of the same forest Arrondissement (from the Head of the Arrondissement to the district forester). The telephone numbers of the forest engineers who have an official telephone in their residence will be included. If a radio station has replaced the telephone, the frequency will be indicated.
For the entire fire season, day and night, every forester must be on constant radio or telephone alert. Thus, all ranks, as soon as they leave their office, have to inform the Forest Service where they go and how to be reached. The vacation of foresters has to be co-ordinated within the same CDF (Forest Development Centre) and the same forest district and organised to ensure permanent presence:
– For the same rank, the personnel on leave has not to exceed one third of the total staff strength during the months August, July, and September; and half for the other months.
– The forester takes it leave only at the same time as its trooper.
– All personnel in leave have to be in reach by telephone or radio.
Particular surveillance of the forests, rounds taken of the officer in charge, in the forest and along the perimeters to enforce the interdiction of lighting fires in the forest and within a distance of 200 m zone and of camp within a 100 m zone (Article 1 and 2 of the Decree of 4 September 1918 relating to the measures to be taken in order to prevent forest fires).
Also the enforcement of the Article 4 of the above quoted Decree by the residents regulating the post-harvest burning of fields.
Intensification of control of forest exploitation sites, in particular of those where char-coal production is authorised in summer, in order to enforce strictly the application of the authorisation (permanent surveillance of charcoal kilns and ground clearing in a radius of 30 m the kilns and around camp sites, etc). Strict application of the suspension of charcoal production where it was not authorised, for the period of 15 June to 31 October.
Maintenance and provision of forest camps (for maintenance or opening of forest access roads, tree nurseries, and planting sites for afforestations) to be distributed as widely as possible and staffed moderately (10 workers for each working site). These crews are acting as first rapid intervention crews equipped with hand tools, thus being able to respond quickly and effectively.
Checking the hand tool deposits (caches) at the forest stations and provision of additional hand tools for fire fighting. The Districts and C.D.F., having road graders and vehicles with water tanks, will assure regular maintenance and will position these strategically for rapid intervention in fire fighting.
Weeding of the fire breaks along certain roads and tracks.
Control of work by the National Railroad Service (ONCF) of weeding along railways in forests or within 200 m (Article 3 of the Decree of 4 September 1918 on measures against forest fires).
Protection of the wood and cork deposits:
– Weeding to bare soil between the piles and around the piles at a distance of at least 30 m by also using the guards of the deposits remunerated from an autonomous budget
– Maintaining a permanent team for guarding and intervention
– Maintaining, permanently, fire fighting hand tools in good operating condition including, particularly high-capacity fire extinguishers, filled water cisterns, water pumps, pipes, backpack pumps, shovels and Pulaski tools, and tractors with trailers
During the month June the organisation of conferences (conférences d’incendies) organised by the forest engineers, in the presence of the local administrative authorities and if required by the vigilance committees in order to remind the instructions for forest fire prevention, the obligation for everybody to take part in fire fighting and the attention of the repressive provisions of the Dahir, dated 10 October 1917. The forest personnel must attend these conferences. A report will have to be sent to Ministry of Forestry. In exceptional case where a conference was not organised by a forest engineer, a justification has to be formulated.
The role of the forest personnel in the case of a fire
Any forester which discovers or learns of a fire warns his direct supervisor as soon as possible. It is necessary to warn at the same time (or to assure that he will be informed) the representative of the local authority. The forester goes then immediately to the fire site. It is an absolute duty for the district forester to reach the fire, if it is within his or neighbouring district. He will gather the workers of the logging sites in the vicinity and all available people around in order to set up a first rapid intervention fire crew which will either engage in firefighting or support any ongoing fire fighting activities.
The chief of the C.D.F. must, as soon as a fire is reported to him, alarm the chief of the Arrondissement or his assistant who must alarm on his turn the central service immediately. The head of the C.D.F. will take all necessary steps to sent in all fire fighting equipment (hand tools, water supply, vehicles) and will go then immediately to the fire site in order to take part, under the direction of the local administrative, in the fire fighting.
When the fire is controlled, the administrative authority must ensure efficient mop-up by the firefighters.
Public policies affecting forest fires
The Moroccan forest legislation contains provisions relating to the prevention of forest fires as well as to the punishment of the arsonist.
There are provisions which regulate the use of fire in forest or in the vicinity during the period of summer dryness, between 1 July and 31 October:
charcoal production is prohibited at the logging sites of legal forest exploitations;
dwellings, structures, camp sites, logging sites located inside the forest or in a radius of 200 m in where fires is used for domestic or industrial purposes, must be surrounded by a fire break of 25 m width removed from any understorey or herbaceous vegetation;
burning of brush, grass, standing fields, between 1 July and 31 October, cannot be carried out by private individuals on areas located at a distance less than 4 km from the forest boundary;
from 1 November to 30 June, no burning of standing vegetation can be carried out within a radius of 500 m starting from the forest boundary without preliminary authorisation.
Both the Moroccan penal code as well as the forest law envisage rather heavy sanctions against arsonists. The Moroccan legislation distinguishes between voluntary and involuntary fires. First case is punished as a crime. Any person who refuses to fight a fire is punished by law.
Outlook and perspectives
The perspectives relate to:
The elaboration of a regional master plan for forest fires protection:
– to analyse and evaluate the requirements for basic equipment taking into account the defence of values at risk;
– to direct the selection of fire fighting equipment by the various partners charged with fire fighting (services responsible for landscape management and direct fire fighting);
– to establish a set of priorities in the choice of forest areas to be equipped and forest fire fighting infrastructures to be realised in function of values at risk.
The establishment of Civil Protection intervention units at the level of forest provinces, specialised in forest fire fighting and equipped with suitable hardware.
The utilisation of the C-130 planes of the Air Force, water dropping equipment for large fire fighting operations in order to reinforce the park of Turbo-thrush planes used by the Royal Gendarmerie.
Creation on the level of all Forest Development Centres (52) of support units (forest fire crews) for initial attack equipped with 600 litres tank vehicles.
The installation of a network of automatic weather stations in the principal forest areas by the National Meteorology Service in order to facilitate the calculation of fire risk indices and the fire fighting.
Master Plan for Forest Fire Prevention and Suppression in the Rif:
Provisions for the 5-year-plan 2000-2004
The following provisions in fire management in the Kingdom of Morocco have been planned for the period 2000 to 2004
Creation and installation of the first Center of Operations based on the existing facilities of the tree nursery of Ain Rami (Chefchaouen), which will function as provisionally Center of Operations at regional level.
Acquisition of two new patrol and first intervention vehicles for a dissuasive surveillance in the northern parts of the region.
Construction of a fire lookout and a water tank with a capacity of 50,000 litres at the forest station of Bouhachem.
Upgrading of the forest access road to Bouhachem.
Equipment and training of the first twenty forest fire suppression specialists.
New development and equipping of the future Regional Center of Operations located in the Province of Tétouan, which will be equipped with a weather station as it is the case of the Center of Operations located at Chefchaouen.
Construction of four new fire lookouts and two buildings, staffed and equipped, preferably in the Provinces of Eastern Larache and Southern Tétouan.
Equipping and training of ten fire crews as reinforcements which will be based in the forested zones with a fire detection system.
Improvement of the existing communication network by the installation of newly procured equipment.
Acquisition of two heavy fire suppression vehicles for the Provinces of Eastern Larache and Southern Tétouan, zones chosen for the construction of six water points for this year.
The repair of two water points located in the Province of Tétouan.
Conservation and repair of the roadway system network, preferably in the territory of Eastern Larache.
Construction and equipping of the future Provincial Center of Operations for the Province of Larache, including a weather station.
Construction, equipping and staffing of four fire lookouts and two buildings, which will be located preferably in the Provinces of Northern Tétouan, Chefchaouen and Mokrisset.
Incorporation of eight fire crews as reinforcements equipped with all necessary means to fight fires. These specialists will receive an appropriate training as well as the remainder of the personnel lately assigned to the Center of Operations. The personnel will be assigned to units that will be equipped with a detection network during this year.
Acquisition of a new heavy fire extinction vehicle, with all its equipment, intended for the territory of Mokrisset. Five water points will be built in the Provinces of Chefchaouen and Mokrisset.
Upgrading of forest roads, preferably in the Provinces of Mokrisset and Chefchaouen. The construction of a new runway for aircrafts close to the Provincial Center of Operations of Chefchaouen from where the planes of the Royal Guard will operate.
Installation of new communication hardware procured during this year.
Construction and equipment of the Center of Operations of the Province of Tangier. A weather station will be included.
Construction and equipment of four fire lookouts and two buildings in the Provinces of Bab Berred, Bou Ahmed, and Tangier.
Incorporation of seven new fire crew reinforcements perfectly trained and equipped. These will be deployed in the zones equipped with fire detection systems.
Acquisition of a heavy fire suppression vehicle equipped with suitable hardware as well as the remainder of the other vehicles already mentioned above. Its personnel will be trained and located in the Territory of Bab Berred, where five water points with a capacity of 50,000 litres will be constructed.
All means recently deployed to the Centers of operations will be equipped with compatible communication systems.
The upgrading of the roadway network will be concentrated in the Provinces mentioned above during this year.
Construction and equipping of the last Center of Operations in the Province of Tétouan, which, once operational, will carry out the tasks of a Regional Center of Operations. Finally, the network of weather stations will be completed and the stations will be interconnected.
Construction of a helicopter port in the Provincial Center of Operations of Chefchaouen. The precise future rendez-vous points for reinforcement forces of the area will be determined.
During this last year, three fire lookout towers and annex buildings will be built and equipped in priority in the Provinces of Western Larache and Tangier.
The last five reinforcements of forest fire crews will be implemented this year in the Territories previously mentioned. As during previous years, the reinforcements will be equipped with all necessary standardized tools and staffing, including training courses.
The provincial units of Chefchaouen will receive a new heavy fire suppression vehicle and will then be a unit perfectly equipped and trained. There will remain only five water points to be built as scheduled.
All forest fire suppression forces will be equipped with radio communication equipment.
During this year, the repair work of the roadway system will be carried out in the Provinces of Tangier and Tétouan.
This report has been translated by Mr. Stefan Teusan (Teusan & Zakrzewski GbR, Karlsruhe, Germany, http://www.forem.de)
IFFN / GFMC contribution submitted by:
Royaume Du Maroc
Ministère de l’Agriculture, du Developpement Rural et des Pêches Maritimes
Ministère Chargé des Eaux et Forêts, Direction de la Conservation des Ressources Forestières
Fax: ++212-7-76 44 46