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50 hectare forest fire breaks out near Berlin

Around 200 firefighters were still battling a ferocious forest fire near Potsdam on Friday morning, with military and police helicopters brought in to help fight the 50-hectare blaze.

50 hectare forest fire breaks out near Berlin
The fire initially covered 90 hectares and soon spread to 200. Photo: DPA

The firefighters spent Thursday night trying to control flames which had spread to an area covering 50 hectares close to a motorway junction near Potsdam. On Friday morning, authorities announced that the fire no longer posed an immediate threat to the nearby town of Fichtenwalde. 

Yet in a statement on Facebook on Friday morning, the Fichtenwalde fire brigade said that the operation was still “in full flow”, as the flames continued to rage. 

The fire started at Autobahn A9 and quickly spread westward. Photo: DPA

Firefighters had their work cut out on Thursday night, and had to rely on aerial assistance from federal police and military helicopters, before a fire-fighting tank arrived at the scene on Friday. 

They were further hampered by repeated explosions reportedly caused by World War II ammunition buried in the ground.

But the firefighters were still able to bring the flames under control, using – among other things – a so-called foam carpet was used to create a barrier along the European cycle path.

The Autobahn A9 was closed off as firefighters tried to get the flames under control. Photo: DPA

The situation at the Potsdam motorway junction remains precarious, however, warned Brandenburg’s forest fire protection officer Raimund Engel.

“The wind will increase again in the morning hours, and we need to be prepared to extinguish flames as they spread,” said Engel on Friday in the RBB-Inforadio.

The fire had started at Autobahn 9 for unknown reasons, according to Engel, tearing rapidly through the mass of pine trees westward to the centre of Beelitz, a small town known for its asparagus.

A planned evacuation of Fichtenwalde was cancelled on Thursday evening. “The danger has been averted for the time being,” said Stein, but warned that residents should still be ready to leave.

SEE ALSO: Should Germany be scared of forest fires?

Potsdam's city centre was also largely closed on Thursday evening, and there were motorway closures on the A9 from Berlin to Leipzig and the Berlin ring road on Friday, as well as traffic jams on the A2 between Berlin and Hanover. By Friday afternoon, the Tagesspiegel reported, traffic was once again flowing in the direction of Berlin. 

For several days, there has been a high risk of forest fires through Brandenburg due to high temperatures and a drought. The risk of further forest fires remains in Brandenburg where, along with neighbouring Berlin, temperatures could reach up to 34 degrees, according to the German Weather Service (DWD).

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ECONOMY

‘Tesla isn’t above law’: Gigafactory construction near Berlin halted amid environmental concerns

US automaker Tesla was forced to suspend forest clearing for a new German plant Tuesday after environmentalists won an injunction over threats to the habitats of resident lizards and snakes.

'Tesla isn't above law': Gigafactory construction near Berlin halted amid environmental concerns
Cut down trees on the Tesla construction site. Photo: DPA

The electric vehicle giant ran into opposition from two nature conservation groups which launched urgent court action against the felling of 83 hectares (205 acres) of pine trees for its huge “gigafactory” plant at Gruenheide, south of Berlin.

READ ALSO: Birds, bats and ants evicted for new Tesla plant near Berlin

The news risks delaying the company's hopes to roll its first electric cars off the assembly line at the site in July 2021.

The administrative court in Frankfurt an der Oder told AFP it issued an interim injunction Monday “imposing a temporary halt to clearing” to allow for an examination of the case “in view of the rapid progress of the clearing work”.

A final decision on the complaint filed by the Brandenburg state chapter of the Nature and Biodiversity Conservation Union (NABU) and Green League is still pending.

Among the concerns was the destruction of habitats of protected species of sand lizards and smooth snakes in the area, or disturbing them during their winter hibernation.

“Tesla cannot and must not place itself above the law,” said Heinz Herwig Mascher, chairman of the Green League in Brandenburg, in a statement.

The site of the Tesla factory. Photo: DPA

Despite the energy-saving image of Tesla, run by eccentric billionaire Elon Musk, the plant has long been in environmentalists' crosshairs.

In February, a court temporarily halted deforestation work over the alleged impact on wildlife and concerns it might harm the drinking water supply.

Work was also stopped earlier this year as authorities defused seven World War II bombs discovered at the site.

Tesla's first site in Europe still only has provisional construction permits, and has been authorised by local officials to begin work at its own risk, pending final authorisation.

READ ALSO: Tesla to build 'world's largest' battery plant near Berlin

Tesla said the land covered under the latest injunction must be cleared to allow for pipelines and storage, according to the Tagesspiegel newspaper.

Last week, Tesla was allowed to start installing machines in the gigafactory's paintshop, with the vast factory planned to churn out 500,000 Model 3 sedans and Model Y SUVs per year.

Musk recently announced the company was looking to build the world's largest battery factory at Gruenheide alongside the car plant.

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