Wild fires: a new threat to Germany?
Flames have been ripping through the woods of east Germany in recent weeks
Fire fighters have been trying to hold back forest fires in several regions of Germany in recent weeks, including a large blaze in the beautiful Saxonian Switzerland national park (on the border to the Czech Republic not Switzerland!).
Meanwhile, a wild fire in nearby Brandenburg ripped through 800 hectares of forest, forcing 600 people to flee their homes while incinerating hundreds of animals at a pig farm.
Weeks of drought and high temperatures have created the perfect conditions for fire to spread. The arid, sandy forests of eastern Germany are particularly vulnerable to such conditions.
The drama even reached the German capital last Thursday when an accidental explosion at a police munitions depot in a forest on the city perimeter caused a fire that briefly brought western Berlin to a stand still.
The depot was packed with unexploded Second World War munitions which started to detonate in the blaze, sending shrapnel flying through the surrounding area. Fire teams were only able to fight the flames with the help of unmanned fire vehicles and Bundeswehr tanks.
Fire crews in Brandenburg are regularly faced with similar problems. Due to the large quantities of unexploded WWII ordnance lurking under the forest floor, fire teams aren’t allowed to get closer than 500 metres to the flames in order to protect them from unexpected explosions. This means that they struggle to put out a small fire even if they spot it while it early.
What has the reaction been?
Coming on the back of severe fires in southern France and Spain, Germany’s wild fires have sown panic in editorial rooms up and down the country.
“This accumulation of catastrophes is almost unbearable, and that's why I'm looking away more and more often,” writes Die Zeit columnist Petra Pinzler. Germany will soon be spending so much on putting out fires and cleaning up after flash floods, she argues, that it will no longer have enough money to invest in new renewable energy projects. “It would then no longer be possible to prevent the crisis,” she concludes.
Germany is fast becoming a “wildfire country” worthy of comparison with Australia, agrees Spiegel columnist Sasha Lobo. “And that’s because the climate catastrophe has brought a drought upon us unparalleled in history.” There is nothing left for it, Lobo argues, Germany needs to learn from Australia and invest in drones and other high-tech gadgetry to equip it for the inevitable infernos of the future.
Die Zeit also published a glossy feature on a day in the life of a firefighter under the dramatic headline “Surrounded by flames”, including obligatory quotes from a fireman who’d “never seen anything like this before.”
Those who see the recent wildfires as yet more proof that Germany is teetering on the brink of ecological disaster tend to refer to climate scientists, who predict that droughts are becoming increasingly common.
What they don’t refer to is the official wild fire record kept by the federal government for the past 30 years. This paints a much less dramatic picture of Germany’s alleged decent into damnation. Fires burned more hectares of German forest in the early 1990s than at any point during this century up until the recent sequence of dry summers. (The national record was started after a similar period of drought in the late 1970s which also unleashed mass hysteria about forests dying off.)
Nonetheless, equipping Brandenburg with helicopters or even a plane to help tackle fires from the sky is probably no bad idea given that the state’s pine forests are spiked with unexploded bombs. The state fire service has called on the German government to provide them with a tanker aeroplane which could be refilled in one of the state’s many lakes.
Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock said on a visit to Prague last week that she supported the idea of creating a “squadron” of tanker planes that would serve central and northern Europe. “The awful recent fire in Saxonion Switzerland underscore why this is needed,” she said.