Germany's biggest forest fire of the year continues to spread near Berlin

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Germany's biggest forest fire of the year continues to spread near Berlin
A wildfire in Jüterbog, Brandenburg earlier in June. Photo: picture alliance/dpa/dpa-Zentralbild | Cevin Dettlaff

A forest fire on a former military training area near Jüterbog, south of Berlin, continued to spread over the weekend. Here’s how firefighters are hoping to stop it - and stymie the spread of future fires.


The local fire brigade said it’s preparing for the operation against the forest fire on a former military training area near Jüterbog in the district of Teltow-Fläming in Brandenburg to last for days. 

Currently the firefighters are unable to get close to the source of the fire because the area is heavily contaminated with old World War II ammunition.

"It's frustrating for the firefighters who are watching and can't do anything," fire chief Rico Walentin told regional broadcaster rbb. 

Overall, the blaze continues to expand and the smoke is picking up again and moving towards the town of Treuenbrietzen, the brigade warned.

It is only possible to move around the area on cleared paths because of the danger of explosion, Walentin said. He added that firefighters were keeping the area wet to stop the wildfire from spreading to other areas. 

This is not the first time the area south of Berlin has been affected by massive forest fires. In August 2018, over 600 people were evacuated from their homes after a fire broke out in the former military training area.

Last year there were more than 500 fires in forest-dense Brandenburg - the highest number in years.

"Summer is just getting started. Frightening when you think about what could still be coming," said Pierre Ibisch, a forest expert and professor at the Eberswalde University of Applied Sciences for Sustainable Development. He said the risk of fires is increasing with climate change.

READ ALSO: Hundreds evacuated near Berlin as forest fire threatens villages

‘Heart’ of the wilderness area

The fire started on Wednesday evening and quickly swept through the area. About 150 hectares are currently burning - that's about the size of half Berlin’s Tempelhofer Feld.

Christiane Lindner-Klopsch, head of the Jüterbog public order office (Ordnungsamt) estimated that the total number of firefighters currently tacking the blaze is "under 50" but that more could be called in.

A Google map shows the location of Jüterbog, south of Berlin in the eastern state of Brandenburg.

"In the area, everything is burning away," she said on late Sunday afternoon.

The affected area is part of the Brandenburg Natural Landscapes Foundation, which safeguards former military training areas for nature conservation. 

Andreas Meißner, managing director of the Stiftung Naturlandschaften (Foundation for Natural Landscapes), said that the "heart" of the wilderness area was affected. 


In the meantime, another fire broke out near Teupitz in Brandenburg’s Dahme-Spreewald’s district. About 4,000 square metres south of Tornow are affected, an officer from the Lusatia fire brigade control centre told rbb. 

READ ALSO: More floods, droughts and heatwaves: How climate change will impact Germany

The fire brigade is currently on the site with 24 vehicles and 50 emergency personnel. The area is also contaminated with former World War II ammunition but, unlike the fire near Jüterbog, there are access roads, allowing firefighters to get close to the flames.

High costs to fight fires

The CDU state politician Danny Eichelbaum has called on the German government to provide more money for the clearance of explosives in Brandenburg - especially as forest fires are a yearly occurrence. 

"The salvage of ammunition around Jüterbog alone would cost 250 million," said Eichelbaum, who also visited the site of the fire himself Saturday. 

District Administrator Kornelia Wehlan of Die Linke (Left Party) called on the state of Brandenburg to take on the costs of the operation.

"Fighting forest fires must not be a question of costs. It is about property, about natural space and, above all, about people," she said. 


In the case of the forest fire in Jüterbog, firefighters had to act quickly in the name of public safety, the district administrator stressed, regardless of the costs.

It's not yet clear how much the fire brigade operation in the forest near Jüterbog is costing. A fire-fighting aircraft used on Thursday cost 3,600 per flight hour - still low compared to other types of aircraft.

 "A Bundeswehr aircraft costs 32,000 per hour, and one of the Federal Police 16,000," Wehlan explained.


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