It rained. Just in time. Nature, which caused the forest fires in southwest Berlin to escalate due to drought and strong winds, then also helped to extinguish them. The Brandenburg towns of Treuenbrietzen and Beelitz, where 160 hectares of forest were torched four years ago, were threatened. Now the new seedlings there have also been destroyed.
got away again. The diagnosis couldn’t be more reassuring. There could just as well have been other forest fires in the equally dry north of Berlin at the same time. Then there would have been pictures here as well, which until now have only been known from California, Australia, Greece, Spain or Portugal, from – so far still – hotter regions of the world.
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Brandenburg has always been particularly prone to forest fires. Nowhere else in Germany is the danger as great as in this region. Of the one million hectares of forest in Brandenburg, which cover 40 percent of the state, 70 percent are pine forests. It’s a risky monoculture in an area almost ten times the size of Berlin, because pine trees burn fast. Sometimes a spark is enough. This is not a new phenomenon. That was already the case in Fontane’s time and even a decade ago.
And yet it’s not what it used to be. Forest fires, which are spreading rapidly and threatening residential areas, are increasing. The reasons for this are well known. Extreme weather conditions are increasing overall, whether it’s a hundred-year flood every two years, a drought in summer, falling water levels or dried-up rivers, as is the case again in the south of the Mark. Only the unteachable will deny climate change and its consequences for the region.
The fact that there is still a lot of ammunition lying around in the sands of the Brandenburg region, some from World War II, some from the remains of the Red Army’s military training areas, has made extinguishing work difficult to this day – and is a problem that cannot be solved in the foreseeable future. No one can get all this out of the ground as a precaution. Decades have been set aside for ammunition disposal in Oranienburg alone.
What can be done, what should be done to avoid such horror scenarios for people in Treuenbrietzen, Beelitz or elsewhere? That too is known. Forest restructuring, planting deciduous trees, because mixed forests keep the water in the landscape and don’t flare up as quickly. Why isn’t this encouraged? Why is little attention paid to the risk of fire in new housing estates on the edge of the forest? How reliable is firefighting that – apart from in Potsdam and three larger cities with professional fire brigades – is carried out solely by voluntary fire brigades, i.e. volunteers?
The system comes up against several limits: there are worries about finding new recruits, people are always commuting, are hardly ever at home, and at the same time extreme situations are increasing. A nationwide network of base fire brigades with full-time firefighters is required. Possibly supported by firefighting aircraft. All of this has been known for a long time. Implementation takes far too long. But the next fire will come. What if the saving rain doesn’t come?