Open Journal of Forestry
2013. Vol.3, No.1, 30-40
Published Online January 2013 in SciRes (http://www.scirp.org/journal/ojf) http://dx.doi.org/10.4236/ojf.2013.31006
Copyright © 2013 SciRes. 30
Fire and People in Three Rural Communities in Kabylia (Algeria):
Results of a Survey
Ouahiba Meddour-Sahar1, Raffaella Lovreglio2, Rachid Meddour1, Vittorio Leone3,
Arezki Der ri d j 1
1Facultés Sciences Agronomiques et Biologiques, Departm e n t of S cienc es Agronomiques B.P., Université
Mouloud Mammeri de Tizi-Ouzou, Tizi-Ouzou, Algeria
2Department of Agriculture, University of Sassari, Sassari, Italy
3Department of Crop Systems, Forestry and Environmental Sciences, University of Basilicata, Potenza, Italy
Email: o.sahar@y ahoo.fr
Received September 29th, 2012; revised November 11th, 2012; accepted November 23rd, 2012
This research was conducted to investigate about the causes of wildfires in three municipalities of the Tizi
Ouzou and Bouira provinces, in Kabylia. Unknown forest fire causes account for 80% of total in Algeria,
with a peak of about 99% in Kabylia, the most forested region in the country but also the most severely
affected by wildfires. The three study areas exhibit a rather high forestry ratio (40% on average) but also a
very high population density, up to 300 people per km2, living in a multitude of small hamlets, near or in-
side the domanial forests and exerting an enormous pressure on them. Survey was carried out on people
(N = 300) randomly selected in nine hamlets (thaddarth) through ad hoc questionnaires (134 possible re-
plies) filled with face-to-face interviews. Factorial Correspondence Analysis was used to process data
(300 × 134 replies in total). Fires result mainly voluntary (52.95%): pastoral fires to renew pastures
(11.30%), political fires as security counter-terrorism measure (11.24%), uncontrolled garbage burning
(6.83%). Negligent fires account for 41.79%: carelessly tossed cigarette butts (9.13%), agricultural works
(burning of cut bush, stubble burning, 7.03%), restart of fire (6.83%) and forest activities in the forest
(6.31%). Results depict a common core of fires due to the pressure on the domanial forests, on which tra-
ditional use of fire (pastoralism) and national security needs (counter-terrorism) dominate.
Keywords: Fire Motivations; Folk Crime; FCA; Kabylia; Pastoralism; Political Fire
In the Mediterranean region more than 50,000 fires burn an
estimated 600,000 - 800,000 hectares annually, about 1.5% of
total Mediterranean woodlands (Rowell & Moore, 2000; WWF-
IUCN, 2007; Cemagref, 2009). Fires are particularly abundant
in the northern rim of the Mediterranean, where France, Greece,
Italy, Portugal and Spain contribute with a yearly average of
49,838 fires and 471,644 burned hectares (1980-2010) (JRC,
In the southern rim fires are less abundant in terms of num-
bers and burned surfaces, certainly due to different socio-eco-
nomic conditions (Velez, 1991), where the forest is a resource,
for food, for fuel wood but mainly for grazing. Wildfires rarely
naturally occur in the Mediterranean region where the only
relevant natural cause of forest fires is lightning. Wildfires
caused by lightning have a local character and are highly de-
pendent on mesoscale atmospheric conditions (Petersen & Rut-
ledge, 1998; Garcia-Ortega et al., 2011). Apart from those pos-
sible, but minimally important causes, fires reveal a strong im-
pact of human actions.
Mediterranean region accounts the larger proportion of hu-
man caused fires in the world (95%) followed by South Asia
(90%), South America (85%) and Northeast Asia (80%) (Leone
et al., 2009).
Forest fire statistics are usually compiled by processing indi-
vidual wild land fire reports collected after each event by the
national Forest Services, Fire Departments or other similar
governmental Agencies. Assessment of cause merely reflects
the opinion of the reporting officer filling the fire report; secure
determinations are therefore possible only when culprits are
brought to justice (Leone et al., 2009). In the list of countries of
southern Mediterranean rim affected by wildfires Algeria is the
first best, with more than 1300 fires per year and 39,000 hec-
tares burned (respectively 2.34% and 6.5% of the values for the
whole Mediterranean; Meddour-Sahar, 2008). Algeria has one
of the longest history of fire recording, together with Cyprus
(Harris, 2007), since both coming from colonial experiences.
Changes in fire occurrence are evident throughout history of
colonization, confiscation of communal land and the applica-
tion of modern agricultural techniques that increased the
amount of arable land (Davis, 2004; Bensaid et al., 2006; FAO,
The state-owned regime for forest and pasturelands and the
settlement policies imposed by the colonial period, for instance,
have brought extensive conflicts between pastoral groups and
the public administration (Davis, op.cit). Rural incendiarism as
protest against curtailing traditional use of common lands
marked the second half of XIX century (Kuhlken, 1999), when
collective fines, set against communities that continued to prac-
tice fire-driven agriculture despite a ban from French colonial
authorities, were met with non-compliance and an increase in
malicious fire raising (Holmes, 2007).
O. MEDDOUR-SAHAR ET AL.
During the long and merciless independence war (1954-1962)
fire was widely used in the scorch earth strategy by the French
Army; more recently during the decade of severe political trou-
bles of the Algerian Civil War, marked by terroristic activity,
fire was among counter-terrorism measures and some forests
have been destroyed to avoid giving refuge to armed groups
(Bainem forest by Algiers, for example; Dridi, 2002). “The
situation in this area of the Mediterranean basin is particularly
alarming and should be a priority for attention of the interna-
tional community” (Bariteau in: Baskaran et al., 2 0 0 1 ) .
Causes of fire in Algeria are the result of high density of ru-
ral population (ranging from 40 to over 600 inhabitants per km2
in the North Central region of the country), of growing demog-
raphy, of rural exodus and countryside abandonment, of urban
sprawl and increasing demand of building areas along the coast,
of increasing production of home waste and of traditional forms
of land use dominated by pastoralism.
In many cases the degradation of forested areas reflects a
population accustomed to using forest as a free-for-all with
scarce concern for forest preservation (Thirgood, 1981), and for
this in strong contrast with Forestry Administration (Berchiche,
n.d.). This adds to an adverse climate, with recurring droughts
and long, increasingly hot summers with prolonged, severe heat
waves, such as in 2012. This scenario is rather similar to other
M.E.N.A. countries’ with similar climatic and productive fea-
tures, where rural populations maintain excessively high pres-
sure on wooded lands, overexploiting firewood and over-graz-
ing (FAO, 2012).
In Mediterranean countries a large fraction of the total num-
ber of forest fires remains unexplained. Algeria holds the record
of unknown causes with nearly 80%, followed by Tunisia, 65%,
Morocco, 55% and Turkey, 48%. The high percentage of un-
known causes as in Algeria, makes it difficult the implementa-
tion of a prevention policy targeted to specific social groups or
activities or behaviours (Meddour-Sahar & Derridj, 2012). Fire
causes in Algeria were object of researches in the past (Gravius,
1866; Thibault, 1866; Marc, 1916; IIA, 1933; Boudy, 1952),
but more recent information about them is very scarce and dra-
matically reflects the extremely high incidence of unknown
fires which, in some provinces in Kabylia, such as Tizi-Ouzou,
is close to 99% (Meddour-Sahar & Derridj, 2010).
In this paper we report the result of a survey on fire causes,
carried out through interviews to people living in three fire
prone areas in Kabylia (Algeria); they represent the powerless
who usually have no voice and whose perspective or interpreta-
tion of the phenomenon could be different from foresters’. The
26 years time series analyzed (1985-2010), includes the “black
decade” (1990-2000) of political instability which raged in the
Survey was carried out in three different rural baladiyath1
(Mizrana, Ain Zaouia, Haizer), in the wilaya (province) of Tizi
Ouzou and Bouira in Kabylia (Figure 1), all of them marked by
more or less severe fire history.
Kabylian communities live in the forest, which provides
them with multiple resources: foodstuffs from poaching and
gathering, honey, mushrooms, fodder, firewood, timber, cork,
etc. (FAO, 2012), but rural populations maintain excessively
high pressure on wooded lands. Official data from the Algerian
Forest Administration of the two provinces (Tizi Ouzou and
Bouira) permit to measure this high pressure: from 1999 to
2009, a total of 347 offenses were officially registered, even not
always sanctioned to punish non compliant behavior.
Selected baladiath are representative of different situations
(littoral, North part of Djurdjura massif, South face of Djurd-
jura massif). Each baladiah* is formed by different douar or
thaddarth (village) (21 to 28), sometimes at the edge of for-
ested areas, in many cases inside the forest. The douar under
study are mountain and forest hamlets, all of them in territories
having a forestry ratio >40%, thus among the most forested
ones in the region.
Forests are highly degraded by fires and by the anthropi c ac-
tivities (illegal cutting and constructions, overgrazing, overex-
ploitation, pollarding for fodder etc.).
Each baladiah covers a surface roughly ranging from 5000 to
9000 hectares and is synthesized, in terms of geographic indi-
cators, in Tables 1 and 2.
Data and Methods
Survey was conducted in a traditional method (self-admin-
istered survey; Leones, 1998) by distributing the purposely pre-
pared questionnaires. Surveyor filled every questionnaire with a
face-to-face interview, directly contacting each one of the
household components. The questionnaire used simple, familiar,
and unambiguous words. It is a closed-ended or fixed-item type;
questions are multiple-choice with unordered response choices.
The questionnaire includes 37 questions allowing 134 responses
and is structured in four sections:
Demographic information (status, gender, residence and
level of education, labor condition);
Agro-forestry activities (type of activities, type and size of
husbandry, livestock feeding);
Knowledge about fires (size, damages, causes);
Anthropic pressure on the forest (forests’ condition, occu-
pancy, garbage burning, needs for firewood, wood cutting,
constructions, forest activities).
Map of the study areas in Kabylia , North Central Alger ia.
*Baladiah is the equivalent of municipality.
Copyright © 2013 SciRes. 31
O. MEDDOUR-SAHAR ET AL.
The most relevant socio-economic indicators for the study areas.
Indicator/Baladiah Mizrana Ain Zaouïa Haizer
North part of
Djurdjura massif South part of
coordinates 36˚20' to 36˚30'N
4˚05' to 4˚07'E 36˚20' to 36˚30'N
3˚55' to 4˚10'E
Surface (ha) 5784 5677 8900
villages 28 29 21
Population 9488 17,372 18,371
Population de nsi ty
per km2 168 305 206
Forest land (ha) 3595 2577 48 27
Forestry ratio in % 72 48 56
(ha) 959 2211 3628
rangelands (ha) 270 200 30
Unproduc t ive land
(ha) 200 400 80
land (ha) 5024 5388 8565
Sheep number 3128 2834 1632
Goats number 2395 1562 146
Cows number 326 345 993
Total livestock 8783 4741 2771
Livestock pe r km2 151.80 83.33 31.13
The most relevant forestry indicators for the study areas.
Forest Domanial forest
of Mizrana Domanial f or est
of Boumahni Domanial f or est
Forest description Open forest Mediterranean
Vegetation Cork oak, Zeen
oak Cork oak, Wild
olive, Ale ppo pine
Aleppo pine ,
Holm oak, Cedrus
Climate Pluviometry: 80 0
to 1200 mm/yr
to 1000 mm/yr
to 1000 mm/yr
terrain (400 - 8 00 m) 76.31% 53.21% 62.95%
Class of dominant
slope (>25%) 60% 69% 47%
Forest fires number
(1985-2010) 182 78 208
(1985-2010) ha 286 143 104
Burned surface in %
of forested area
(1985-2010) 3.06 2.13 0.83
Survey was carried out in March-May 2010 in three villages
for each baladiah, where we found the support of local authori-
ties, including the transport on the field and presentation to the
village chiefs (Table 3). Surveyor (O.M.S. and her team) was
always accompanied by a local key-informant, usually a mem-
ber of the village committee who helped the surveyor to get in
touch with the relevant villagers and above all to establish a
relationship of trust.
Number of sampled villages.
Azroubar 151 43
Ouatouba 106 30
Tamazir t Ourabah 96 27
Total baladiah of
Mizrana 353 100
Adbagh 29 18
Ait Amar M oh 48 29
Igharviyen 80 53
Total baladiah of
Ain Zaouia 157 100
Guentour 190 56
El Mahsar 46 13
Slim 105 31
Total baladiah of
Haizer 341 100
Total 851 300
At first some difficulties in contacting households arose and
made necessary the intervention of village leaders to explain
that surveyors were not sent by the government to investigate
about offences in the forest, but emphasizing that their interest
was directed to protect forest against fires.
The target population for the survey consists of 100 indi-
viduals aged 15 and older of both sexes, for each baladiah. The
unit of observation is a household in the selected villages.
Sampling plan and size for each village is reported in Table 3.
At the household level, the sample of the interviewees was
large enough in size in relation to the defined target population.
The three baladiah encompass a total of 78 villages; the choice
of three villages for baladiah (9 villages in total) therefore gave
a sampling rate of 11.53%. Given the security constraints in the
area (terrorism), the expected results and the specificities of the
Kabylian village residents, a sample of nearly 300 individuals
was decided, thus representing a sampling rate of 35.25 % (300
out of 851 households). Not having the availability of lists of
inhabitants, a systematic sampling on the field was then applied
in agreement with village leaders, by taking a household out of
three for Mizrana and Haizer, and one out of two in Ain Zaouia.
Sampling was very difficult in the absence of listing, and even
on the field; contact also was difficult, since some families
refused to participate in the investigation or were not at home.
On the contrary, an open willingness came from University
students, thus explaining the relatively high percentage of them
among respondents (18.7%). A research whatever has never
been carried out in those villages and their forests have no
Data were processed using Sphinx plus V5 survey and statis-
tics software (www.lesphinx-developpement.fr/).
Sample is mainly composed of male (81.7%), rather young
individuals (65.7% under 39 years), mainly living in the forest
(48.7%) or near it (19%). This is specific for Kabylia but not
for Maghreb, since in Tunisia and Morocco the similar per-
centage is no more than 10% (Colin & Jappiot, 2001).
Copyright © 2013 SciRes.
O. MEDDOUR-SAHAR ET AL.
Labor status is strongly characterized by unemployment
(51%), followed by employment in Government (16%) and
work in agriculture (14%), be it self-employment or wage work;
the number of retired (8%) and students (8%) is low. In general,
all people, even in official status of unemployed or employed,
work their land, as it is usual in rural societies. People under
observation have a rather low education level (illiterate account
for 25.3%; primary and college school level for 37%, secondary
school for 19%, University level for 18.7%). The latter per-
centage, however, marks the interest for high levels of educa-
tion also in small rural communities and, in addition, the rele-
vant attractive power by University in the backcountry.
Main activities (more than 50%) are olive growing and hus-
bandry, followed by growing fruit trees and vegetables. Bee-
keeping is rather important (14.7%) based on a reduced number
of beehives (the modal value 46.7% is less than 4 beehives).
Independently from species (cattle, sheep, goats) number of
stock units is low: the modal class is 0 - 5 stock units. Products
are mainly for self-consumption (78.7%). Livestock is mainly
fed in the forest (27.2%) or fed with a mixed regime (fodder
and grazing in forest (42.6%). Replies on occupancy of forest
by local residents were bivalent, balanced ones: benefic for
41.7%, detrimental for 39.3%, no opinion for 19%.
Heating and cooking is mainly based on LPG (89.7%), fol-
lowed by wood (76.7%) and electricity (27%). Wood is mainly
harvested (illegally too) in the forest (71.7%) or purchased
(19.3%). A large majority of respondents (88%) complains
about scarce effort by Forest Administration in providing them
with firewood. Domestic garbage is destroyed on site, arguably
by fire (51.7%), abandoned in the forest (50%) and thrown into
Illegal wood cutting and illegal constructions are considered
important by 11.3%, but of low importance by 60.63% of re-
spondents. Surprisingly, only 36.7% of respondents or their
families, though living in the forest or rather close to it, are
involved in forestry works: cleaning (21.7%), fire fighting ac-
tivities (21%), cork harvesting (21.7)%. Forest is considered by
far an advantage by 87.3% of respondents. Surveyed people
express equivalent opinion about fires trend: increasing (45.7%).
decreasing (45.3%) constant (only 9%). A great majority of
surveyed people has seen a fire (90%), mainly of medium or
large size (respectively 43.1% and 36.3%). Their opinion about
fire damages mainly refers to crops (75.7%), fruit trees (52.3%),
houses (22.3%) livestock (20.7%) and humans (only 2.3%).
About forest fire causes, surveyed people were invited to de-
clare presence or absence of the officially accepted causes, as
proposed by Forest Administration. No question involved qua-
litative evaluation of the phenomenon.
Causes of Forest Fires
Percentage of causes results as follows:
Percentages are well consistent with current literature, which
often underlines an excess of emphasis given to voluntary fires
(Velez, 2000; Franco Irastorza & Dolz Reus, 2007). The main
causes are reported in Table 4 here following (all baladiath
As evident from Tables 4 and 5, a few motives have a fre-
Decreasing frequency of forest fire s motives.
Main motives %
Pasture rene wal 11.30
Fires set for political reasons (se curity fires) 11.24
Cigarette remains 9.13
Agricultural works (burning of cut bush, stubble burning) 7.03
Illegal garbage dumping and burning 6.83
Restart of fire 6.83
Forest works (burning of cut bush) 6.31
All the others <6
Fire motives in decreasing order of frequency in the three baladiah.
Ain Zaouia Mizrana Haizer
Motives (%)Motives (%) Motives (%)
Fires set for
political reasons23.29Pyromania 19.63
Restart of fire 15.22Pasture renewal 18.06 Cigarette remains8.44
renewal 12.73Cigarette rema ins 15.45 Pasture renew al7.58
burning 10.56 Fires set for
political reasons 14.40 Forest works 7.33
Forest works 6.21Agricultural works 11.26 Children’s games6.60
works 4.66 Interest in land use
changes 6.81 Agricultural
Conflict related to
land use 3.42 Conflict re lated to
land use 5.76 Re st art of fire5.87
Cigarette remains3.42Forest works 4,19 Pyromania 5.75
Others 20.49Others 1.57 Others 43.88
quency >6%, but they strongly differ from a baladiah to an-
other, thus confirming that, at every scale, fire is site and cul-
ture specific (Leone et al., 2003).
Factorial Correspondence Analysis
Given the relevant amount of information gathered by the
survey (300 × 134), forest fires causes were explored also with
the help of FCA (Factorial Correspondence Analysis) a tech-
nique which belongs to the family of multidimensional descrip-
tive statistics (Maniatis, 2010). We present only significant
results of analysis, and some representative scatter plots.
Municipalities, Villages and Causes
Ain Zaouia is more distant from the average (axes origin),
whereas Mizrana and Haizer are symmetrically opposite to it.
Copyright © 2013 SciRes. 33
O. MEDDOUR-SAHAR ET AL.
In Ain Zaouia, political fires are the more impressing motive,
followed by fire restart; the latter motive, as already reminded,
is closely related to security reasons which hamper the effi-
ciency of fire fighting crews, thus confirming a sort of feedback
with political fires.
Haizer is characterized by garbage burning, honey gathering,
children’s games, land use conflicts, followed by less important
causes (brash burning, agricultural fires, tourists, machinery,
power line arching, vehicle’s muffling, hunting conflicts).
Mizrana has its distinctive trait in pastoralism, followed by
cigarette remains, pyromania, land use change (it is a munici-
pality rather close to coast, where housing boom is a reality).
Exploding the results in the nine villages, the mentioned
Ain Zaouia villages:
Ait Amar Moh and Igharbiyene are characterized by political
fires and hunting interest, Adbagh by fire restart, conflicts with
Guentour stands out for garbage burning and conflict with
Forest Administration, El Mahsar for land use conflicts and
forest machinery, Slim for honey gathering and hunting con-
Guentour and El Mahsar appear closer, therefore more simi-
lar and more involved with bush burning, whereas Slim is
characterized by minor causes, such as machinery, hunting
conflicts, land use conflict, agriculture and forest work by ma-
Mizrana, Tizi Ourabah and Outouba are involved with pas-
toralism and agricultural fires, in some opposition and rather
distant from Azroubar which is characterized by pyromania,
interest in land use and cigarette discarding.
For pyromania, present only in this context, probably the
term was not well understood by respondents and merely mis-
taken for unknown as Franco Irastorza & Dolz Reus (2007)
Location of Villages
People dwelling villages inside the forest mainly refer to py-
romania, but also to cigarette remains, to interest and/or con-
flicts for land use changes; two main causes dominate: pastor-
alism, which pertains to their culture and political reasons. Peo-
ple living outside the forest have a less concerned image of
problems: they recall rather obvious and banal reasons: chil-
dren’s games, power line arching, tourists, vehicle’s mufflers.
In a rather intermediate position the replies of people who dwell
villages close to the forest or at the edge of it: they mainly refer
to forestry works, to restart of fire, to honey gathering, but with
strong emphasis on burning of garbage, which is probably part
of their familiar scenario.
Municipalities and level of education form a rather compact
cloud, rather distant from two causes which represent outliers:
lightning, which is a rare event (within Algeria and all Maghreb)
and interest in hunting, which is a forbidden activity now prac-
ticed only as poaching, therefore a rather risky one. In order of
educational level, illiterate refer to restart of fire, tourists, for-
estry works, vehicles’ mufflers, illegal dumping and burning of
domestic waste. Primary and secondary school refer to honey
gathering and change of land use. Middle school refers to po-
litical reasons and pastoralism and to less important leisure
activities, cigarette remains, accident from agriculture and for-
estry works and machinery.
The University level clearly refers to pastoralism and pyro-
mania, together with power lines arching, interest and conflicts
in land use. In such results we can argue that some importance
have mass media, since the motives are rather “high” and echo
the frequent analysis circulated by them, sometimes containing
not acceptable fire cause hypothesis such as glass refraction or
magnification (Be l g a c e m , 2012).
In the replies by the University level respondents we cannot
also exclude a sort of reactivity in altering their performance,
probably to conform to the expectations of the surveyors. At the
opposite, the group of illiterate and low education summoned
their experience of livelihood and traditional, rural, pastoral
Pastoralism and political fires are quite coincident with axes
origin and close to middle age classes, mainly 40 - 49, which in
part arguably recalls personal experiences of the black period.
Medium age class 30 - 39 seems attracted by land use changes
and conflicts. More aged class 50 - 59 and 60 and over, clearly
refer to livelihood activities: pastoralism, honey gathering, i.e.
the traditional activities of aged rural people.
Analysis of age classes gives interesting result, though some
classes are clustered: 30 - 39, 50 - 59, 60 and over are tightly
grouped close to the origin of axes but under A1, whereas 20 -
29 and 40 - 49 are over the axe but symmetrically distant from
axe A2. Rather distant from the cluster stays the younger class,
>20, which appears as an outlier. Younger respondents refer to
leisure activities, as expected; aged 20 - 29 are closer to pyro-
mania, rather close to garbage dumping and cigarette remains,
arguably under the influence of mass media.
Examples of scatter plots issued from FCA are here follow-
ing (Figures 2 and 3).
Survey results about causes are commented in their order of
importance as in Table 5 but only when exceeding a frequency
of 4%. By far the most serious cause of forest fires attributed to
the rural population is deliberate burning for grazing and land
The Most Relevant Mot ivations
Pastoralism: Pastoral fires are a traditional practice all over
the Mediterranean basin in areas where fire is the cheapest way
to regenerate pastures invaded by shrub (Cemagref, 2004; Pyne,
1997). Range burning could be related to the high number of
sheep in the country as a whole: in Algeria (with more than 25
millions livestock, 77% of which represented by sheep; FAO,
2012) demand for red meat is high and growing. In the '90s the
country imported around 20% of all that it uses (Homewood,
1993). Now sheep meat represents 30% of the total meat pro-
duction of Algeria (Dutilly-Diane, 2006). In general fire is not
Copyright © 2013 SciRes.
O. MEDDOUR-SAHAR ET AL.
Copyright © 2013 SciRes. 35
FCA scatter plot related to the nine villages and causes. A1 axe explains 43% of variance, A2 explains 28%.Correspondence of
motivation with municipalit ies is rather evident.
FCA scatter plot related to age classes of surveyed and causes. A1 axe explains 37% of v ariance, A2 explains 27%.
directly applied to the forests, but rather to marginal rangelands
and shrub lands close to them. When vegetation is stressed after
a long summer drought, easily fires get out of hand affecting
the forest boundary (Meddour & Derridj, 2012).The tendency
to increase range a rea s at the de triment of degraded forest cover
is a real problem, observed in other Mediterranean countries
(e.g. in Sardinia, Italy). Shepherds do not refrain from use of
fire, even if this means risk for forests (Meddour-Sahar et al.,
2012). Fire setting normally follows traditional rules, such us
procedures, timing, and time of return on same site; therefore
this practice could be defined as a cultural trait of the local
O. MEDDOUR-SAHAR ET AL.
Political fires are the most site specific and disquieting cause
of wildfires for Algeria, mainly in Kabylia. The term refers to
forest fires as a tool used by the State in its fight against jihadi
combatants (UNHCR, 2001; Dridi, 2002; Kervin & Gèze, 2004;
Rahal, 2012). During the Algerian war (1954-1962) the French
Army is reported having burned about 70% of forest in the
Massif of Bou-Taleb (Madoui, 2000, 2002) also using napalm
to destroy insurgents in Movis forest (Ouarsenis forests; Sari,
1976). Burned forests in Oued Lardjem, Theniet el Had, Ain
Antar still exhibit scars of burning by napalm.
Cigarette remains: Carelessly tossed cigarette butts are re-
sponsible of roadside fires. Cigarettes, under normal conditions,
do not start wild land fires unless the relative humidity is under
22%, it is windy, and a continuous, cured, finely-particulated
fuel-bed exists (NWCG, 2005). Lack of roadside maintenance
(through slashing or manual brush removal) increases fire haz-
ard in summer, since roadsides are recognized as critical igni-
tion start points (Romero-Calcerrada et al., 2008; Chapman &
Balmain, 2004; Cardille et al., 2001) No specific roadside treat-
ments (such as fire safety strips along roads i.e. “anti-cigarette
strip”; FAO, 2001) to prevent the occurrence of fires and mini-
mize the danger of fire spread are actually required for roads
crossing forests or plantations in the area (Meddour-Sahar &
Pyromania results with high frequency in general, and rather
high, first best, in the baladiah of Mizrana. The term is often
improperly used as a synonym of arsonist (Instituto Medio
Ambiente, 2003; Dolz Reus & Franco Irastorza, 2005; Lovre-
glio et al., 2010), or just an improper way to express “un-
known” (Franco Irastorza & Dolz Reus, 2007). In a recent sur-
vey in Sardinia, carried out by Delphi technique, pyromania
resulted among the main causes of fires in the province of
Cagliari (Lovreglio, unpublished data). It is probable that the
number of authentic pyromaniacs, who suffer an addictive be-
havior, is over-estimated as many fire-raisers if caught “red
handed” claim to be suffering from mental trauma in an atte mpt
to escape a custodial sentence (Ashby, 2012).
Agricultural works refers to burning of cut bush or stubble
burning, i.e. traditional systematic burning of stubble, for the
preparation of the agricultural land for new sowing-purposes
and the elimination of residues that restrict exploitation. Forest
works are a rather common case of negligence, quite often re-
lated to old age of responsible, or imprudence; more rarely
related to an overconfidence and boldness in manipulating fire.
Restart of fire can be caused by fire-fighters who do not en-
sure that the fire is completely out; the alarming conditions of
insecurity in Kabylia, where terroristic groups are reported still
active, could justify this apparently negligent behavior. Another
reason could be the high number of fires which the fire crews
must intervene on, therefore having no time enough for mop-
ping-up any fire after it has been controlled (Meddour-Sahar et
Garbage burning is a direct consequence of extreme popula-
tion density and type of settlements, which make garbage col-
lecting rather difficult. The production of domestic waste in
Algeria is estimated in 657,000 tons/year; (Benouar, n.d.), i.e.
0.50 Kg/hab/day (Dorbane, 2007). In the town of Tizi Ouzou
the daily amount of domestic waste is estimated about 68.38
tons, corresponding to 0.81 kg/hab./day. In the wilaya of Tizi
Ouzou a proliferation of illegal, uncontrolled dumps along
roadside is reported, with the presence of only 30 controlled
garbage dumping sites v. 1236 illegal ones (Meddour-Sahar &
Derridj, 2010; DPAT, 2011), i.e. an average of 18 sites per
municipality. Dump sites are preferential points of fire start in
forests (Djema & Messaoudene, 2009)
Interest in land use change mainly refers to fire used to
change land use: from forested area to agricultural area or,
more frequently, to building area. The latter is more evident in
Mizrana, where demand of space for urbanization is very high.
Such changes have no relevant obstacles given the lack of Land
Cadastre and negligible fines for illegal behaviors. An increas-
ing demand for housing can induce forest fires as an illegal
means to increase the supply of available land (Gonzalez,
Children’s games (with lighters, matches, small fireworks
such as firecrackers or small amount of explosives) are cur-
rently reported in all countries, not therefore having any local
character. Children cause fires out of curiosity or mischief; in
the study area, fire is more probably a possible occasion to
spend time together and relieve boredom, lacking other oppor-
tunities for free time.
Other fire causes exhibiting a frequency <4% are just listed,
without a commentary: Tourists (3.09%), Honey gathering and
related use of smoke (2.83%), Vehicle’s muffler (2.76%), Bar-
becue fires (2.04%), Power line arching (1.71%), Conflicts with
Administration (1.31%), Hunting conflicts (0.85%), Interest in
hunting (1.25%), Lightning (0.79%).
Just some comments for conflicts with Foresters and Forest
Administration seem useful. Conflicts related to forest policy
could be interpreted as a kind of reaction, for example, when
reforestation is carried out at the expense of traditional exten-
sive grazing lands, against the lack of negotiation with the
population (Meddour-Sahar et al., 2012). Similar reactions by
local populations against national programs of reforestation (the
so called Green Belt of the '70s) were already reported (Vallejo,
Conflicts with foresters. The policy adopted by the Forest.
Administration often tends to further marginalize rural popula-
tions, which manifest themselves in the firing of forests against
the application of a criminal jurisdiction and a colonial-style
behaviour (Berchiche, n.d.). In those cases, though limited in
frequency, fire can have a subtle but strong symbolism, because
a patch of fire is a very visible and powerful claim.
Rural incendiarism is an expressive form of resistance, al-
lowing a powerful statement to be expressed, with some lively-
hood benefits through freshly cleared land or regenerated pas-
ture, while having fewer constraints than other forms of protest
because of its anonymity and difficulty to be identified (Holmes,
For a classification of voluntary fires we adopted the classi-
fication by Douglas et al., (1992), which proposes six possible
motives for arson: Vandalism, Excitement, Revenge or Protest,
Crime Concealment, Profit, and Extremist. Douglas’ classifica-
tion was mainly conceived for urban fires but it well fits also
with wild land fires (Leone & Lovreglio, 2003).
In the study case, ten possible motives after Douglas can be
retrieved: Extremist: for political fires; Revenge or protest: for
conflict related to land use, conflicts with foresters and Ad-
ministration, hunting conflicts; Profit: for interest in land use
and change in land use, for pastoral fires, for illegal garbage
burning, for hunting.
Copyright © 2013 SciRes.
O. MEDDOUR-SAHAR ET AL.
Copyright © 2013 SciRes. 37
ting and accepting that their responses are frank and truthful.
Our results therefore concern truth-as-observed, not exact sci-
ence (Jollands et al., 2011).
For all the others, mainly involuntary fires, excluding pyro-
mania classified as a mental addictive disorder (APA, 2000) a
possible unifying category is folk crime (Bankston & Jenkins,
1982). Many law violations in rural communities such as the
violation of gambling, hunting and game laws, and woods burn-
ing fall in such category. Woods burning, like poaching, is
deeply rooted in some rural cultures (Bankston & Jenkins, 1982;
Forsyth & Marckese, 1993; Forsyth et al., 1998).
It is the first time that a similar survey is carried out in Alge-
ria; at our knowledge, this procedure is not so common also in
more advanced countries, where statistic are always compiled
on the basis of the subjective knowledge of professionals
charged of this task. The fire scenario of our survey depicts re-
lationship among people, land and fire rather different from the
rhetoric image reported in some classical books on forest fires
in Algeria, for instance Gravius (1866) and Thibault (1866).
As a result these violations became accepted as normal be-
havior in some cultural settings. Setting fire on woods is a
“…custom (emphasis added by Authors) that has been predi-
cated upon the assumption that timber is either an undesirable
barrier to land use or, at best, an expendable commodity sec-
ondary in importance to other land uses. In the course of
time…it has become accepted as normal behavior… Although
fire setters may be few in number, they can practice fire setting
with the assurance or at least the toleration of their activities
because community members subscribe in some degree the
beliefs and/or attitudes that motivate the fire setter” (Bertrand
& Baird, 1975: pp. 6 and 11).
In our results forested areas are degraded by human overuse
and impact, swarming with a myriad of people using fire in a
more or less legal way. The forest is a place where to use fire
for getting fodder to animals; to illegally extract stones, accel-
erating the operations by burning used tires; to use fire to re-
lieve boredom; to dispose garbage and wastes and burning them:
in short, gradually consuming the forest or eroding it.
Results highlight a complex reality, issued from a new style
of life where people live in the backcountry but work (if they
do so..) in towns and are therefore in some way obliged to find
new ways of problems solving, where time saving is an impera-
tive, and fire is the privileged tool.
All this explained, behind the majority of motives for setting
fire on woods in Kabylia some subsistence reasons exist (Em-
ery & Pierce, 2005). Of course, the Penal Code of Algeria
(Grim, 1989), is rather severe with fire setters, who are sen-
tenced to hard labour jobs.
We can synthesize as follows: the causes, as perceived by
dwellers (we insist that they are perceived but not real) can be
distinguished in a “common core”, represented by a cluster of
negligent behaviors and scarcely important folk crimes; two
more evident causes, represented by political fires and pastoral-
ism, clearly dominate on them, whichever the criterion of ana-
Conclusion and Final Remarks
Survey carried out in the three representative municipalities
had the main scope to uncover motivations and drivers that lie
behind wildfire in Kabylia. Of course we describe causes as
perceived by local inhabitants and not by professionals of For-
est Administration, since their statistics admit that the totality
of fires is of unknown origin (99% in Tizi Ouzou wilaya).
The negligent behaviors recall the anarchistic activities prac-
ticed in the Algerian forests (Djema & Messaoudene, 2009),
results of the release of the rules of a former rural culture based
on traditional behaviors, now no more consistent with changed
style of life and age and/or education contrasts.
We decided to give voice to the inhabitants, therefore admit-
CLD of forest fires and causative agents (factors) for Kabylia and Algeria: the number of arrows
visualizes the multiplicit y and complexity of interrelated factors.
O. MEDDOUR-SAHAR ET AL.
We propose here as a conclusion (Figure 4) a CLD (Causal
Loop Diagram; Richardson & Pugh, 1981; Kim, 1992), to visu-
alize relationships of the most important variables which are
behind causes in Algeria and in Ka bylia.2
Though related to only three municipalities (i.e. 2.67% of the
67 municipalities of Tizi Ouzou and 45 municipalities of
Bouira; 0.0019% of the 1541 municipalities of Algeria), our
result is well representative of Kabylia.
We underline the importance of our survey, which for the
first time measured the unknown causes, accounting for 99% in
official statistics. Their importance must be considered in the
scope of a new approach to fire fighting: from fire suppression,
mainly oriented to emergency measures, therefore a “reactive”
process, to a longer term policy of removing the structural
causes (Birot, 2009; Velez, 2008), then a more “pro-active” ap-
But if wildfires are to be tackled conclusively, then there is a
need (Jollands et al., 2011) to address the root causes which
lead to fire setting, properly targeting the social groups and
concentrating efforts consistently with fire risks.
All authors contributed extensively to the work presented in
this paper. O.M.S designed the study, collected and analyzed
data; O.M.S. and V.L. wrote the manuscript; R.M., R.L., A.D.
gave technical support and conceptual advice. All authors dis-
cussed the results and implications and commented on the ma-
nuscript at all stages.
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