Another car arsonist arrested in Berlin

Berlin police on Wednesday arrested another suspect in their investigation into the spate of car arson attacks in the German capital. Over 540 road vehicles have been burnt out in the city since the start of the year – including six more overnight.

Another car arsonist arrested in Berlin
Photo: DPA

The police arrested a 28-year-old man in the Kreuzberg district of Berlin on Wednesday morning, where he was caught near two burning motorcycles. A nearby car was also damaged by the fire.

Police said the suspect was known to them, though not as an arsonist, and that there was no indication of a political motive. The man has so far not been charged.

Meanwhile, the arson attacks continued sporadically throughout Tuesday night in Berlin. Unknown people set fire to a car in the Spandau district of Berlin, a car and a truck in Neukölln, and a moped in the Marzahn-Hellersdorf district. In Neukölln, passers-by prevented greater damage to other cars by putting out the flames.

For the last two weeks, Berlin police have been supported in their investigations by their federal counterparts. Around 500 officers working on the investigation were on duty during the night. The federal operation, which includes helicopter support, is costing the Berlin tax-payer €250,000 per week.

Police estimate that around half of the 540 arson attacks reported this year are down to left-wing extremists, while the rest are thought to be the work of copycats and insurance fraudsters.

The arsonists have proven to be both very difficult to catch or to conclusively link to individual attacks. Police say they often use BBQ fire-lighters to start the blazes, and are well out of sight by the time the car is in flames. The few court cases have mainly ended in acquittals or suspended sentences.

A couple arrested in August has confessed to some attacks, but are not considered to be politically motivated.

The attacks have since become a major issue in Berlin’s mayoral election campaign, with the opposition blaming the attacks on Mayor Klaus Wowereit’s decision to cut police numbers in the past few years. Wowereit, of the centre-left Social Democratic Party, is currently well ahead in the opinion polls. The election takes place on September 18.

DAPD/The Local/bk

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‘Unprecedented’: How explosions and fires have rocked Berlin’s Grunewald forest

An "unprecedented" fire broke out on Thursday around a German police munitions storage site in a Berlin forest. Here's how events unfolded and the reaction.

'Unprecedented': How explosions and fires have rocked Berlin's Grunewald forest

What happened?

Emergency services were called out after explosions were heard in the ‘Grunewald’ forest in western Berlin in the early hours of Thursday morning. 

It then emerged that a fire had broken out near a police munitions storage site, all on one of the hottest days of the year when temperatures were forecast to reach around 38C in the German capital. 

As explosions continued at the site, sending debris flying into the air, firefighters weren’t initially able to get near the flames to extinguish it. Emergency services set up a 1,000-metre safety zone around the area.

This aerial photo taken by the Berlin Fire Brigade shows the fire in Grunewald.

This aerial photo taken by the Berlin Fire Brigade shows the fire in Grunewald. Photo: picture alliance/dpa/Berliner Feuerwehr

Later on Thursday afternoon, Berlin fire brigade spokesman Thomas Kirstein said the situation was “under control and there was no danger for Berliners” but that the fire was expected to last for some time.

No one has been hurt by the fires. Around 250 emergency workers were deployed to the site.

READ ALSO: Blasts ring out as forest fire rages in Berlin’s Grunewald

How was the fire being tackled?

The German army (Bundeswehr) was called in. They sent a tank aimed at evacuating munitions at the affected storage site as well as remote-controlled de-mining robots, while drones circled the air to assess the emergency.

Water cannons were also deployed around the safety zone to prevent the fire from spreading.

Berlin mayor Franziska Giffey interrupted her holiday to visit the scene, calling the events “unprecedented in the post-war history of Berlin”.

Giffey advised people in Berlin to close their windows but said the danger was minimal as there were no residential buildings within a two-kilometre (1.2-mile) radius and so no need to issue evacuation orders.

Berlin mayor Franziska Giffey speaks at the scene of the forest fire on Thursday

Berlin mayor Franziska Giffey speaks at the scene of the forest fire on Thursday. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Wolfgang Kumm

“It would be much more difficult if there were residential buildings nearby,” she said.

What caused the blaze?

That’s still unclear. Police say they are investigating what started the fire exactly. 

The store in question holds munitions uncovered by police, but also unexploded World War II-era ordnance which is regularly dug up during construction works.

Giffey said local authorities would “have to think about how to deal with this munitions site in the future and whether such a place is the right one in Berlin”.

Is Grunewald a popular site?

Very much so. The sprawling forest on the edge of Berlin is home to lots of hiking trails and is even near some popular lakes, such as the Krumme Lanke. It’s also near the Wannsee and Havel river. 

Map shows where the fire broke out in Berlin's Grunewald

Map shows where the fire broke out in Berlin’s Grunewald. Photo: picture alliance/dpa/dpa Grafik | dpa-infografik GmbH

Authorities appealed for the public to avoid the forest, which is regularly visited by both locals and tourists.

Deutsche Bahn said regional and long-distance transport was disrupted due to the blaze.

A part of the Avus motorway between Spanischer Allee and Hüttenweg was also closed in both directions, as well as Kronprinzessinnenweg and Havelchaussee, according to the Berlin traffic centre.

Aren’t forest fires and strong heat causing problems elsewhere?

Yes. Authorities on Thursday said no firefighting choppers were available as they were already in use to calm forest fires in eastern Germany.

However, they also said the 1,000-metre safety zone applied to the air, so there was a limit to how useful it would be to drop water on the fire from above.

The German capital is rarely hit by forest fires, even though its 29,000 hectares of forests make it one of the greenest cities in the world.

Brandenburg, the region surrounding Berlin, as well as parts of eastern Germany have for days been battling forest fires.

Parts of Germany were also recently hit by forest fires during heatwaves this summer. 

Temperatures were expected to climb as high as 40C across parts of Germany on Thursday. However, it is set to cool down on Friday and thunderstorms are set to sweep in from the west.

With reporting by AFP’s David COURBET