In North Africa, illegal man-made fires are on the rise, driven in large part by a growing demand for charcoal, which is produced by burning wood in underground pits. In the past, local people collected dead wood on a small scale, and larger operations were regulated by the government (3). However, as the demand for charcoal and the price for which it sells have increased, illegal efforts to produce it have multiplied (4). North African countries must address the resulting fires to protect forest ecosystems, which play an important role in the welfare of both urban and rural people and harbor unique and sensitive biodiversity.

The religious feast of the sacrifice (Eid al-Adha)—an important celebration in the Islamic religion during which a sheep is sacrificed—increases the demand for charcoal, which is required for traditional meat grilling. This year in Algeria, the number of fires peaked on 27 July (4 days before Eid al-Adha) with 66 simultaneous fires in 20 provinces. The next few years could bring substantial environmental damage because Eid al-Adha will take place during the summer, when forest fires peak and become difficult to contain.

The business model for producing charcoal is ominous for the health of North Africa's forests because the revenue from the charcoal sold increases with the size of the exploited area. The fires are likely to deteriorate the soil, intensify desertification, and exacerbate climate change (9). A Mediterranean forest requires several decades to recover and reach its equilibrium. Climate change has already increased the total area burned by wildfire in the region, and the increased anthropogenic disturbance related to charcoal production could threaten the resilience of the environment, the economy, and human well-being.
ocal authorities should increase enforcement to curtail illegal charcoal production, which often takes place at night and across wide geographic areas. Educating the public about the value of these forests and facilitating collaborations between scientists, the government, and rural and urban residents would also be effective strategies. If residents were motivated to report fires and other environmental crimes, authorities could take prompt action for the benefit of the environment.
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