The accident happened at the Reichelsheim aerodrome, near Friedberg in central Germany as the aircraft was coming in to land.
Two metres from the ground the pilot told his three passengers, all journalists, to jump to the ground while he tried to land safely, said a report on the Bild newspaper website, one of whose photographers had been on board.
Once the three journalists left the dirigible, it climbed back up to 40 metres but then caught fire for reasons not yet clear, said police.
Witnesses reported hearing a loud noise from the engine and smelling petrol fumes. Apart from the Bild photographer, the journalists included two from RTL television.
The airship had been making a promotional flight to mark a local festival.