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Wildfire risk and its perception in Kabylia (Algeria)

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  • University Mouloud Mammeri Tizi Ouzou

Abstract and Figures

This research aims to study wildfire perception by residents living in Wildland Urban Interface (WUI) in Kabylia (Algeria). We conducted an exploratory qualitative survey contacting 254 randomly selected individuals in eight hamlets of the Mizrana forest. Face-to-face questionnaires were administered to understand the fire risk problem. Respondents think that their homes are not exposed to fire risk and perceive their hamlets are protected against wildfires; on the contrary, they perceive their property (fields, livestock, olive trees, etc.) as exposed to fire risk. The vast majority of respondents declare to know how to defend themselves in the case of a fire event, using water and hand tools. Residents mainly use fire for stubble burning and disposal of domestic waste. Their skill in using fire as a land management tool respectively comes from their fathers, grandfathers and mothers. Results show the necessity of making resident more aware of the risks that wildfires pose to them. A culture of risk needs to be developed within the territory to limit vulnerability and the likelihood of destructive fires.
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i
iF o r e s t
F o r e s t
Biogeosciences and Forestry
Biogeosciences and Forestry
Wildfire risk and its perception in Kabylia (Algeria)
Ouahiba Sahar (1),
Vittorio Leone (2),
Hanane Limani (1-3),
Naima Rabia (1),
Rachid Meddour (1)
This research aims to study wildfire perception by residents living in Wildland
Urban Interface (WUI) in Kabylia (Algeria). We conducted an exploratory quali-
tative survey contacting 254 randomly selected individuals in eight hamlets of
the Mizrana forest. Face-to-face questionnaires were administered to under-
stand the fire risk problem. Respondents think that their homes are not ex-
posed to fire risk and perceive their hamlets are protected against wildfires;
on the contrary, they perceive their property (fields, livestock, olive trees,
etc.) as exposed to fire risk. The vast majority of respondents declare to know
how to defend themselves in the case of a fire event, using water and hand
tools. Residents mainly use fire for stubble burning and disposal of domestic
waste. Their skill in using fire as a land management tool respectively comes
from their fathers, grandfathers and mothers. Results show the necessity of
making resident more aware of the risks that wildfires pose to them. A culture
of risk needs to be developed within the territory to limit vulnerability and the
likelihood of destructive fires.
Keywords: Algeria, Fire Use, Mizrana Forest, Risk Perception, TEK, Wildland
Urban Interface, Wildfire
Introduction
A marked increase in the number of wild-
fires, which are very frequent in the five
Southern member States of European Un-
ion is currently registered also in the South-
ern Mediterranean rim, namely in Tunisia,
Morocco, Lebanon (European Commission
2015), and above all in Algeria (Meddour-
Sahar 2015), hitherto considered with a
low fire incidence level (Alexandrian et al.
1999). Forests cover approximately 3.7 mil-
lion hectares (only 1.5% of the land area) in
Algeria, half of which are degraded forest
or maquis (Pswarayi-Riddihough 2002),
concentrated in some wilayas (provinces)
of the Northern part of the country, with a
negative gradient East-West. Algerian for-
ests are currently in a critical state (DGF
2004) due to human activities (Meddour-
Sahar 2014), which add a negative impact
to the extreme climatic factors of the
country (heat waves in combination with
drought – Duguy et al. 2013, Cardil et al.
2014, Gouveia et al. 2016). Fire, extensive
livestock breeding, overgrazing, clearing, il-
legal forest harvesting, and urbanization
contribute to forest degradation.
The most recent available statistical data
(1985 to 2014) report an average of 1,912
fires and 36,205 hectares of area burned
annually, rather exclusively as a result of
negligent or malicious anthropic activities
(Meddour-Sahar 2015). The number of wild-
fires exhibits an increasing trend, whereas
burned surfaces follow a rather stable or
slightly decreasing one.
Notwithstanding the importance of wild-
fire phenomenon, which strongly affects
densely inhabited areas with high levels of
damage and frequent life loss (Meddour-
Sahar et al. 2013a), Algeria has a scarce
presence in the current international wild-
fire literature, mainly dealing with post fire
regeneration and remote sensing (Rashid
1987, Meddour 1992, Ouelmouhoub & Ben-
houhou 2007, Bekdouche et al. 2008, Guet-
touche et al. 2011, Slimani et al. 2014, Bel-
kaid 2016). Recent research papers (Med-
dour-Sahar et al. 2013a, 2013b, Meddour-Sa-
har & Bouisset 2013, Meddour-Sahar 2014)
have examined the causes of wildfires and
the organization of the institutional fire
fighting apparatus. No reference exists, ac-
cording to our knowledge, about the per-
ception of wildfires by residents; however,
this kind of research is almost absent also
in the countries of the Northern Mediter-
ranean rim (FAO 2006, Langer & McGee
2017). Hence, our interest was to carry out
a first exploratory analysis about percep-
tions of wildfire risk associated with living
in or near the forested area of the Mizrana
forest, considered well representative of
the most general conditions of Kabylia.
In Mizrana, most fires are linked to rural
habitats scattered along the roads, which
generate consumption of space and other
problems, such as the use of fire for the
disposal of household refuse. They are the
result of an unplanned urban sprawl, that
allows individuals to build close to vegeta-
tion or even to embed their houses within
it, thus settling in harms’ way, since the link
between fires and urban spaces in proxim-
ity of forests is more than a hypothesis
(Chuvieco et al. 1999, Velez 2000, Catry et
al. 2007, Ganteaume et al. 2013).
The factors that increase fire risk (e.g.,
structure and type of vegetation, its prox-
imity to house, lack of defensible space)
are the very elements that satisfy the
search of amenity by new residents and
represent what they appreciate within the
landscapes in which they have decided to
reside. Building homes at risk of wildfires
because they like being surrounded by
trees, can be defined as “amenity risk”
(Berger et al. 2008, Kousky et al. 2006).
© SISEF http://www.sisef.it/iforest/ 367 iForest 11: 367-373
(1) Department of Agricultural Sciences. University of Mouloud Mammeri, Box 17 RP, Tizi
Ouzou 15000 (Algeria); (2) formerly at Department of Crop Systems, Forestry and Environ-
mental Sciences, University of Basilicata, v.le dell’ Ateneo Lucano 10, 85100 Potenza (Italy);
(3) Biodiversity Ecology Evolution, University of Montpellier (France)
@
@ Ouahiba Sahar (o.sahar@yahoo.fr)
Received: Jul 02, 2017 - Accepted: Feb 12, 2018
Citation: Sahar O, Leone V, Limani H, Rabia N, Meddour R (2018). Wildfire risk and its
perception in Kabylia (Algeria). iForest 11: 367-373. – doi: 10.3832/ifor2546-011 [online
2018-05-04]
Communicated by: Matteo Garbarino
Research Article
Research Article
doi:
doi: 10.3832/ifor2546-011
10.3832/ifor2546-011
vol. 11, pp. 367-373
vol. 11, pp. 367-373
Sahar O et al. - iForest 11: 367-373
Material and methods
Study area
The study area is represented by the do-
manial natural forest of Mizrana (2,233 ha),
located in the low elevation coastal area of
Kabylia (Fig. 1).
The climate is a subhumid Mediterranean
type, with temperate variation. The vegeta-
tion is represented by cork oak (Quercus
suber L.) stands, whose undergrowth is do-
minated by Arbutus unedo L., Erica arborea
L., Rubus ulmifolius Schott, Myrtus commu-
nis L. and Phillyrea media L.
The Mizrana forest is subject to harmful
practices and has been affected by recur-
rent wildfires; during the period 1988-2013,
113 fires burned an area of 2,036 ha (Hamel
2016). Fires can be explained, among oth-
ers, by the elimination of the forest to re-
cover spaces to be built, as already shown
for Spain by Gonzalez (2007) and for
Greece by Bassi & Kettunen (2008).
The study area is densely inhabited (up to
287 habitants km-2) with the population dis-
tributed in clusters of hamlets near the
forested areas, or close to their edges.
Traditional agriculture still occupies an im-
portant place in Kabylia: it is based on
breeding (sheep, cattle and goats), arbori-
culture (olive and fig trees) and vegetable
crops. The vast majority of farms in the
study area have a surface of at most one
hectare. People mainly rely upon low-in-
come subsistence agriculture, in which
they focus on growing food to feed them-
selves and their families, with little or no
surplus for trade. This type of agriculture
dramatically exposes the family to poverty,
should a wildfire destroy their crops.
Methods
The survey was carried out in eight ham-
lets in the domanial forest of Mizrana, be-
longing to three rural municipalities (Bala-
diah): Tigzirt (located near the coast), Miz-
rana and Afir (in the inner part, respec-
tively about 6.50 and 5.20 km away; Miz-
rana is in the core of the forest), as repre-
sentative of the wilayas of Tizi Ouzou and
Boumerdes, which are among the most se-
verely fire affected wilayas in the country
(Meddour-Sahar & Derridj 2010, Meddour-
Sahar 2014). Two of the three Baladiah (Tig-
zirt and Mizrana) are at high or extreme
risk of wildfires (Meddour-Sahar & Derridj
2010, Meddour-Sahar 2014), given the val-
ues of their RMA (see below), whereas in
the hamlet of Afir the risk is average. RMA
is the average annual risk RMA = SMA × 100
/ SCM, where SMA is the average area
burned per year (ha) and SCM is the cur -
rent forest area (ha – De Montgolfier 1989 ,
Peyre 2001).
The total population of the three munici-
palities is 34,673 people and they encom-
pass a total of 63 hamlets; the choice of
the eight hamlets therefore gave a sam-
pling rate of 12.7%. In Tab. 1 the basic geo-
graphic and socio-economic indicators of
the study area are presented.
The study area represents an intermix
type of WUI (Wildland/Urban Interface),
i.e., areas undergoing a transition from
agricultural and forest uses to urban land
uses, respectively Types 7, 8, 9 (dense clus-
tered) according to Lampin-Maillet et al.
(2010).
Our survey was conducted between
March and May 2016, by distributing pur-
posely prepared questionnaires (see Ap-
pendix 1) during a face-to-face interview,
i.e., having direct contact with each re-
spondent. We discarded as unfeasible
other methods for administering the ques-
tionnaires, e.g., by mail or e-mail, due to
problems of illiteracy and the lack of Inter-
net connection, respectively.
Local contacts were activated long be-
fore starting the field work, to obtain the
acceptance of the initiative. Without this
crucial step, we could not have reduced
the bias, diffidence and the potential aver-
sion of rural people towards the surveyors.
This partly explains the slightly different
numbers of respondents within each ham-
let.
The questionnaire used simple, and un-
ambiguous words. It was a closed-ended or
fixed-item type; questions were multiple-
choice with unordered response choices.
The questionnaire was structured in five
sections:
1. demographic information;
2. agro-forestry activities;
3. knowledge about fires;
4.risk perception by the population and
their degree of concern;
5. use of fire by the population.
Data were processed using Sphinx® plus
V5 survey and statistical software (http://
www.lesphinx-developpement.fr). For the
identification of a structure in the dataset
obtained from questionnaires, we used a
biplot resulting from a Factorial Correspon-
dence Analysis (FCA), i.e., a low-dimen-
sional display of the data matrix where
data in rows and columns in a contingency
table are represented. FCA is an excellent
2D approximation of the hierarchy of the
relationships between rows and columns
of contingency tables.
Demographic information and agro-
forestry activities
The target population for the survey con-
sists of 254 individuals, aged 15 years and
older, of which 118 women and 136 men,
46% and 54%, respectively (Tab. 2). The rela-
tively high presence of women reflects the
matriarchal society of Kabilia (Grassof
2003) and their direct involvement in agri-
cultural activities.
The dominant age classes are 20-39 and
40-59. Age > 60 accounts for 21%. Thirty
percent of respondents are housewives,
followed by employees and students, with
368 iForest 11: 367-373
Fig. 1 - Excerpt of the topographic map 1:50.000. Green areas represent the Forest of
Mizrana, in the wilayas of Tizi Ouzou and Boumerdes (Algeria). Hamlets (represented
by red squares) are mainly located along roads or close to the forest edge.
Tab. 1 - The most relevant socio-economic indicators for the study areas.
Indicator/Baladiah Mizrana Tigzirt Afir
Population density (no. km-2) 168 287 213
Forest land (ha) 3595 2235 1400
Forestry ratio (%) 72.00 36.05 22.58
Agricultural land (ha) 959 973 1.820
Total livestock (no.) 8783 4454 6811
Livestock (no. km-2) 152 107 110
RMA (annual mean fire risk) 3.19
High (2-4)
10.69
Extreme (> 8)
1.08
Average (1 - 2)
iForest Biogeosciences and Forestry
Wildfire risk and its perception in Algeria
20% and 13% respectively, and farmers with
11%; unemployed and retired respondents
are a minority (14% of the total); sheep
farmers and breeders represent only 4% of
the sample. The concerned communities
reflect a traditional society, currently de-
pendent on activities in the tertiary sector,
since its members work in towns but live in
the countryside.
Seventy-six percent of the respondents
have lived in the study area since birth, and
11% have inhabited there for more than 20
years. The main activities (more than 30%)
are gardening, growing fruit trees and cat-
tle (sheep, goats) breeding. Employment in
the nearby forest was declared by only 2
respondents.
The number of stock units is low for all
types of species (cattle, sheep, goats): the
modal class is 0-5 stock units, thus confirm-
ing a subsistence activity. Livestock is main-
ly fed with a mixed regime, fodder and
grazing in forest (74.8%) or fed with fodder
(21.5%). Products, in general, are mainly for
self-consumption (65.1%).
Results and discussion
Knowledge about fires
Concerning the trend in fire occurrence,
the sample is strongly divided: 28.3% de-
clare it is constant, 61.4% perceive a de-
crease and only 10.2% consider it to be in-
creasing.
Regarding the situation of forest fires,
78.4% of respondents declare to be aware
of the fire situation in their hamlets, and
79.5% have already witnessed forest fires.
Forest fires with less than 1 hectare of
burned area have been directly witnessed
by 52% of respondents, whereas 38.2% of
them have directly witnessed medium size
fires of less than 50 hectares. Less than
9.8% of respondents have directly wit-
nessed large fires (> 100 hectares).
In the assessment of damages, 35.7% of
respondents report damages to the forest
and wood or fodder, followed by fields
(32.5%) and fruit trees (19.2%). Fewer re-
spondents report damage to houses and to
herds (2.1% and 7.7%, respectively), and loss
of life (2.8%), the latter referred to by only
two hamlets (Alma N’waman and Tissira).
Risk perception
A vast majority (76.8%) of respondents
perceive that their hamlets are well pro-
tected against forest fires. Their philoso-
phy of prevention is based on tracks, fire-
breaks and water reserves, designed with-
in the framework of traditional manage-
ment projects (FAO 2006). In decreasing
order, the preference in terms of preven-
tion infrastructures is: 75.2% for tracks; 61%
for water points; 40.2% for firebreaks. The
vast majority (98%) of respondents con-
sider no other means to protect them-
selves from fires.
The perception of fires as a threat is
rather low at only 16.1% of respondents,
whereas there is larger consensus of re-
spondents that fear fires (55.5%) or that are
greatly concerned of them (28.3%). Rea-
sons of concern are rather different, with
23.9% claiming that fire is a constant threat
for them and their assets; 25.6% of respon-
dents point out the insufficient fire fighting
service provided by the Civil Protection
agency, or its late intervention in case of a
fire (16%), and the relatively long distances
between the cities and the locations of the
fires (10%), which reflects on the time of ar-
rival and first intervention. Some respon-
dents (13.6%, the majority from the hamlet
of Abada) are concerned by political fires
(to oppose terrorism – Fig. 2).
Information about risk
A vast majority of respondents (85%) de-
clare their interest in receiving more infor-
mation about wildfire risk, mainly under
the form of meetings (39.8%), pamphlets
(22.9%) and radio broadcasts (22.3%). On
the contrary, daily news and television are
by far the less preferred (8.2% and 6.8%, re-
spectively).
Radio broadcasts and meetings are the
most preferred means by people in the age
class from 40-59 to 60-79, whereas
younger respondents (age class 20-39)
clearly prefer pamphlets and radio broad-
casts. Meetings, which are also an occasion
for socialization, are the media preferred
by the oldest participants (age > 80).
Social groups confirm their scattered
preference: radio attracts housewives,
meetings are appreciated by the retired,
newspapers are preferred by the liberal
and unemployed, pamphlets by students,
television by farmers and officials. Like
housewives, shepherds prefer meetings.
Information source
Foresters are indicated by the vast major-
ity of respondents (60.5%) as the preferred
source of information, followed by munici-
palities (26%), Civil Protection and Firefight-
ers (13.5%).
On the contrary, in case of fire the vast
majority (95.7%) of respondents will call the
fire service. This may just indicate that the
emergency telephone number of the fire
service (14) is much easier to remember
than the foresters’ one, which has a non-
friendly nine digits format.
Fire hazard and assets
The vast majority of respondents (69.3%)
think that their homes are not exposed to
the risk of fire, thus aligning to the previ-
ous 76.8% of surveyed people who perceive
their hamlets well protected.
At the same time, 68.5% of respondents
believe that their property (fields, live-
stock, olive trees, etc.) is exposed to fire
risk. Assets such as fields and crops are
considered the most exposed to fire risk
(57.8%), followed by olive trees (26%), and
iForest 11: 367-373 369
Tab. 2 - Demography of sampled hamlets.
Class
Baladiah (Town) Afir Mizrana Tigzirt Total
Hamlets Abada Tissira Alma
N’waman Azroubar Ait Said Tamazirt
Ourabah Cheurfa El Azaib
Gender Men 12 14 23 17 18 15 14 23 136
Women 13 11 19 13 17 14 15 16 118
Age Less than 20 0 1 3 0 3 0 1 4 12
20 - 39 14 9 15 13 13 12 11 17 104
40 - 59 7 11 15 9 7 9 11 14 83
60 - 79 4 3 9 5 8 8 6 4 47
> 80 0103 40008
Employement Farmer 1 4 7 4 4 3 3 3 29
Housewife 8 10 9 6 10 9 13 12 77
Liberal 3 0 5 5 3 2 0 2 20
Official 4 6 10 5 7 6 4 8 50
Retired 2 2 3 2 2 2 1 4 18
Shepherd 0 0 1 2 1 1 3 2 10
Student 4 3 3 2 6 4 3 8 33
Unemployed 3 0 4 4 2 2 2 0 17
Total - 25 25 42 30 35 29 29 39 254
iForest Biogeosciences and Forestry
Sahar O et al. - iForest 11: 367-373
livestock (16.3%). Respondents focus risk
more on their productive assets than on
buildings, which are probably considered
safer, due to their incombustible building
materials (mainly stones and bricks).
How to defend against fires
The quasi-totality of respondents (92.1%)
declare to know how to defend them-
selves in case of fire events; in decreasing
order, the tools to be utilized are water
(42.4%), and hand tools (39.3% – Fig. 3). The
use of backfire (i.e., a fire that burns into or
against the wind, purposely set to con-
sume fuel before the arrival of an advanc-
ing wildfire), is mentioned by only 13.9% of
respondents. An even smaller number of
respondents mention perimetral strips, to
be ploughed up by a tractor around culti-
vated fields.
Use of water is the most preferred tech-
nique for all groups, but especially by
housewives (32.2%), employees (19.3%), stu-
dents (12.9%), and farmers (10.9 %).This
probably depends on its use by firemen,
and the popularity of images of firefighting
interventions. In any case, it contrasts with
the water paucity which characterizes the
hamlets and the whole country, and with
the lack of pumps, hoses or tractors.
The use of backfire, on the contrary, is
rather equally shared by a minority of re-
spondents, with the exception of breeders;
probably, for the latter group, this tech-
nique might appear dangerous to livestock
and to fodder resources. Although rather
modest, this preference is probably con-
nected to the traditional habit of using fire
in land management (the keçir) “…that
consisted of clearing land by setting con-
trolled fires every four years…” (Ford
2008, pag.4).
Back-fire could be considered as a telltale
sign of persistence of TEK, Traditional Eco-
logical Knowledge (Berkes et al. 2000),
which encompasses knowledge about the
environment derived from experience and
traditions (Usher 2000, Houde 2007, US-
FWS 2017).
Prevention measures
Among the prevention measures already
used by 90.6% of respondents, the majority
state that they use brush clearing around
houses (70%), followed by pruning trees
closest to their homes (16.4%), and
ploughed strips around their fields (13.6%).
This latter modest value is rather signifi-
cant, because the Decree 87- 44 of 10 Feb-
ruary 1987 sets rules imposing the pres-
ence of defensive strips around all fields;
the declared non-compliance with laws by
about 86% of respondents contrasts the
feeling of being well defended against fire.
Measures mentioned have a different ef-
ficacy: whereas brush clearing around
houses, if wide enough, creates a defensi-
ble space, where fire spread could be easily
stopped, pruning of trees is only effica-
cious to reduce the possibility that a run-
ning fire may become a crown fire, and has
no effect on preventing or mitigating sur-
face fires (Corona et al. 2015).
The low preference for perimetral
ploughed strips, on the contrary, besides
being a failure to comply with specific rules
for the protection of domanial forests, is
an aggravating factor of risk, since it makes
easier for fires to propagate on cultivated
land, so producing a disaster in a local eco-
nomy grounded on subsistence.
From the perspective of the single ham-
lets, the preferences for prevention mea-
370 iForest 11: 367-373
Fig. 2 - Fire concern in the different hamlets based on Factorial Correspondence Analy-
sis (FCA). The diameter of circles is proportional to values in the contingency table,
while dotted lines join the hamlets (blue circles) sharing a specific problem (red cir -
cles). For the hamlets of El Azaib, Ait Said, Cheurfa fire is a constant threat; in the
hamlet of Abada there are concerns of political fires; Azrouba and Alma N’waman
complain about the relative inefficiency and late arrival of Civil Protection forces, and
distance from town (Chi square=156.95; df=35; p<0.01).
Fig. 3 - Measures adopted in
the differents hamlets to
control fires. All villages pre-
fer the use of water and
hand tools in order to con-
trol fires. El Azaib is more ori-
ented to the use of firelines
or firebreaks, whereas Alma
N’waman is clearly oriented
to the use of backfire. Fire-
breaks are clearly an outlier,
arguably because it is neces-
sary to have the tractor to
plough them.
iForest Biogeosciences and Forestry
Wildfire risk and its perception in Algeria
sures appear rather polarized along brush
clearing (4 out of the 8 hamlets) and pe-
rimetral strips and pruning of trees (2 out
of 8 for both), thus confirming the individ-
ual responses. This suggests that people
are reluctant to fear the worst; culturally
accepted precautions are considered ade-
quate to provide protection from a risk
that is badly perceived, probably because it
is relatively infrequent (Beaver 2011).
Use of fire
Respondents use fire as a tool for stubble
burning (27.5% of respondents), burning
for disposal of household waste (19%),
burning of weeds and agricultural residues,
with 18% and 17%, respectively. Other rea-
sons for the use of fire (land clearing,
brush clearing, renewal of ranges), re-
ceived lower values (4.9%, 4.6%, 4.3%, re-
spectively). Very low values characterize
the activity of apiculture (fumigation of
bee-hives) and last, restricted to only the
hamlet of Tissira, the traditional use of fire
for wild honey hunting (Fig. 4).
How respondents learned to use fire
and loss of its use
The majority of respondents declare hav-
ing learned to use fire from their fathers
(50.8%), followed by grandfathers (30.7%)
and then their mothers (14.6%). This latter
response confirms the matriarchal regime
of hamlets in Kabilya and the importance
of women’s activity in agriculture (Grassof
2003).
For 69.2% of respondents, traditional
knowledge of fire is still present, whereas
for 30.8% traditional knowledge is not al-
ways there. Almost two thirds of respon-
dents, in age classes 40 to 79, gave a posi-
tive reply to the question, and 100% of
more aged respondents, age class >80,
confirmed this answer.
The main cause for which traditional
knowledge of fire use is lost is related to its
dangerousness, with a rate of 57.5%, fol-
lowed by the response that it is a tiring ac-
tivity (29.5%). Younger people who have
abandoned working on the land, refuse
this traditional knowledge, and clearly sup-
port (62.2%) the idea that TEK is no longer
present in the area.
Conclusion
The perception of the residents has been
studied on the issues of wildfire risk, and
the traditional use of fire. People have
scarce awareness, tending to consider the
phenomenon as decreasing, and illusorily
perceive their hamlets to be well protected
by preventive measures. The degree of
concern about fire risk is moderate in Miz -
rana residents, with less than one third of
them perceiving fire risk as a constant
threat. Unapt or scarcely efficient preven-
tion measures accompany this conviction.
Although traditional ecological knowl-
edge in the use of fire was diffuse and qual-
ified in the past, the survey group seems
alien to this. The replies provided by the
youngest underline this distance, when
declaring that a motif of TEK disappear-
ance is that it is tiring; the younger genera-
tion seems uninterested in agroforestry ac-
tivities in relation to fire occurrence, and
they implicitly expect protection and re-
sponse from the State (Civil Protection,
and Foresters) in case of a fire event. They
do not blame themselves for failing to un-
dertake adequate preventive measures
and complain about the late arrival of fire-
fighters, caused also by the distance from
their headquarters.
Residents are unaware of the risks they
are facing, or they are overly confident
about it, and actually engage in hazardous
behavior in the use of fire (for instance the
disposal of domestic waste by fire is the
cause of most wildfires).
Traditional prevention measures, evi-
denced by some respondents, are unfit to
cope with a medium-high intensity fire, and
the use of water as suppression agent
(highly rated), further underlies a lack of
awareness, as it is efficacious only on low-
medium intensity fires, not on the extreme
fires that often ravage the country.
Lack of awareness is also indicated by a
lack of compliance with law (as is the case
of the perimetral ploughed strips around
fields) and, in the opposite situation, in
adopting measures which have a scarce or
very scarce chance of containing a fire.
More than two thirds of the surveyed
population think that their houses are not
exposed to fire risk, because they are built
with fire-resistant materials (concrete,
brick, etc).
Passing from the individual to the collec-
tive lack of suitable behavior, we underline
the inherent risk of living in the forest in-
terface, without a collective effort to make
these areas better protected and safer. Liv-
ing in harm’s way is accompanied by a dis-
counting of the potential impacts of fires,
so risk of loss of life or house destruction
receives less attention.
Our survey indicates a lack of awareness
of the inhabitants of these zones. More
than just a misunderstanding of risk, re-
spondents’ cognitive limitation could be
caused by “optimism bias”: they tend to
overestimate the likelihood of positive
events, and underestimate the likelihood
of negative events.
iForest 11: 367-373 371
Fig. 4 - Distribution of fire use in the different hamlets. In Azroubar, Abada, Ait Said, Tamazirt Ourabah fire use appears strictly con -
nected with stubble burning, disposal of domestic waste, and mainly for Azroubar, weed burning. Respondents from Tissira favour
land clearing, burning agricultural residues, and wild honey hunting. Fumigation of bee-hives seems only restricted to Cheurfa and
El Azaib, together with brush clearing. Respondents from Alma n’Waman indicate pasture renewal, land clearing, burning agricul -
ture residues.
iForest Biogeosciences and Forestry
Sahar O et al. - iForest 11: 367-373
Notwithstanding the relevant fire pres-
ence in the history of the area, the inhabi-
tants appear to dismiss the evidence of
hazardous conditions. They are probably
induced by the infrequent occurrence of
extreme events, and the fading of personal
memory about them, which has nurtured a
dangerous overconfidence on their fire
suppression capabilities. This perception
will make nearly impossible to implement
efficacious prevention plans, or to cope
with the increasing severity and frequency
of wildfires which is projected to occur as a
result of climate change.
Although living in two of the more fire
prone towns in the most severely fire af-
fected wilaya of Algeria, respondents’ ac-
tions compound in the case of a wildfire
disaster and aggravate potential losses, for
instance unwisely using fire in severe fire
weather conditions, or avoiding efficacious
prevention measures.
Even though referred to a limited situa-
tion in Kabylia, this exploratory and qualita-
tive study is the first to analyze fire risk
perception in Algeria. Its findings suggest
that a similar type of survey should be car-
ried out at a wider scale, in order to ex-
plore how people really perceive fire
threat, and how they behave on the
ground, before mounting ambitious plans
for a fire prevention program within the
country.
Acknowledgments
We are very grateful to the respondents
and foresters who accompanied us on the
ground. We appreciate the time they dedi-
cated to us and their remarkable attention
and interest in responding to survey. We
also thank the three anonymous reviewers
for their insightful comments on the paper,
as these comments led to an improvement
of the work.
While remaining responsible for any er-
rors in this paper, the authors would like to
thank Dr. Robert Stacey, Northumberland
Fire and Rescue Service, Cramlington (UK)
for his patience and accessibility in review-
ing the text and the numerous remarks he
provided to improve it.
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Supplementary Material
Appendix 1 - Survey questionnaire: the per-
ception of forest fire risk in Kabylia.
Link: Sahar_2546@suppl001.pdf
iForest 11: 367-373 373
iForest Biogeosciences and Forestry
... No validated questionnaire on the variables of interest is currently available in the literature. Therefore, for the item selection and development of our questionnaire we adapted previously used items for investigating the perception of wildfire risk in WUI residents in Algeria [20], Portugal [18], and the United States [6]. After merging the three aforementioned questionnaires, an adapted questionnaire resulted (see Table S1 in Supplementary Materials for the English version), suitable for the administration to a wider pool of users, including the general population, fire-related workers, and WUI residents. ...
... It could be inferred that these subgroups might be at risk for wildfire consequences, concerned about their own protection for work and personal reasons, and, consequently, more likely to gather information on the topic. This is in line with previous studies on both forest and wildfire specialists and WUI residents, pointing out the perceived need of further knowledge and evidence on wildfires [20,28]. ...
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