The Facebook entry could hardly be surpassed in terms of drama: “Catastrophe. Everything is on fire here. Hundreds of emergency services on site. completely out of control.” This was posted by the volunteer fire brigade of the city of Falkenberg/Elster in southern Brandenburg on Monday evening around 9 p.m. The large fire that broke out on the same day kept the emergency services busy on Tuesday.
One is already used to a lot from the past few years, but this fire has a new dimension, said the state’s deputy forest fire protection officer, Philipp Haase, to the Tagesspiegel: “We usually deal with so-called ground fires. In Falkenberg, however, it is a crown fire. In addition, there are unusually strong winds, so that the fire can spread very quickly in or over the treetops.” This is one of the reasons why the fire had spread so rapidly to a total of around 800 hectares on Monday evening.
According to district fire chief Steffen Ludewig, the major fire was only under control on Wednesday morning. “The situation is stable, and also relaxed overnight.” Cooling down due to lower temperatures and a decrease in the wind would have helped. Evacuations from local locations are no longer an issue.
“The fire is overall under control, but the danger has not yet been banned because there are many embers that flare up again and again,” emphasized Philipp Haase, Deputy Forest Fire Protection Officer for the State of Brandenburg. 450 firefighters are fighting the fire on an area of around 500 hectares. “In addition, the fire-fighting helicopters did a very good job.” Some machines will be withdrawn on Wednesday because they are no longer needed.
Vehicles from the Federal Agency for Technical Relief (THW) are currently cutting wide aisles in the forest so that the fire brigade’s emergency vehicles can get to the scene of the fire. “Unfortunately, a Bundeswehr armored personnel carrier suffered gearbox damage and is due to be replaced today,” emphasized Haase on Wednesday. Fortunately, the wind played along on Wednesday, blowing much weaker.
Two Bundeswehr firefighting helicopters have been in action since morning. They take the water from the nearby Kiebitzsee, which has been closed for this purpose. From Wednesday noon onwards, attempts should be made to extinguish from the ground. Another helicopter flies over the forest fire area to observe the situation.
Areas contaminated with ammunition continue to cause concern. The ordnance disposal service is on site, said district fire chief Steffen Ludewig. “We will find out where we can really go in there and where there is danger.”.
The state fire brigade association described the fire as the largest forest fire this year in Brandenburg. According to the district fire chief, the extinguishing work will take at least a week. “All comrades are at the breaking point,” said Ludewig, it was not the first mission this year.
Philipp Haase, deputy forest fire protection officer for the state of Brandenburg, expects a week-long deployment before all the embers are extinguished.
On Monday evening, the more than 350 firefighters on site could not prevent the flames from spreading to a piglet rearing facility near the village of Kölsa. “I estimate that a total of around a thousand piglets died,” said Dirk Gebhardt, head of the administrative staff from the Elbe-Elster district, who very quickly declared the major disaster situation: “A barn with 500 animals burned down completely, and several hundred more piglets were probably killed heavy smoke gas development in the other barn buildings.”
But you still don’t have a complete picture of the damage, said Gebhardt. In his view, there would have been no chance of saving the animals, as the fire spread at such a rapid rate on Monday evening that the firefighters had great problems getting to safety: “Fortunately, three of the eight injured were able to Comrades have now left the hospital. The others are still being treated for smoke inhalation.”
According to Gebhardt, the trigger for the sometimes highly dramatic situation was a thunderstorm front that passed through the forest fire area, which was still much smaller at the time, around 7 p.m. on Monday. The front did not bring any rain, but extremely violent gusts of wind that drove the fire in front of it at breakneck speed.
Several wind turbines were also surrounded by it, but they did not burn themselves. “It was unbelievable: when it got dark, we only saw flames meters high,” reported a firefighter: “In addition to this extremely hot wind, that’s how I imagine hell.”
According to the German Weather Service (DWD), the wind in southern Brandenburg should be weak on average on Wednesday. In the course of the day, however, gusts of up to 40 kilometers per hour could occur again. “But there is no rain in sight until Friday evening,” said meteorologist Helga Scheef.
According to the administrative staff, the situation was further aggravated on Monday evening by the fact that the towns of Rehfeld, Kölsa and Kölsa-Siedlung had to be evacuated as a precaution because the flames came dangerously close to them. Several hundred residents were affected, some refusing to leave their homes. “That was actually irresponsible,” said Chief of Staff Gebhardt. “There was a great danger to their health, especially due to the smoke. But the police couldn’t force them out of the apartments either.”
For those who left their homes and could not stay with relatives, the district made the “guest house” in Falkenberg available. The regional newspaper “Lausitzer Rundschau” reported on residents who had stayed in their homes but fled in their cars in the middle of the night in view of the approaching flames. They would then have waited for further events in the parking lot of a supermarket, for example.
Firefighters were still unable to bring the fire under control on Tuesday morning. After all, the residents of Rehfeld and Kölsa were able to return to their homes in the afternoon, but the Kölsa settlement remained closed. Again and again ghostly reports that Lönnewitz and other towns would have to be evacuated, through the social media, but were always denied.
According to the spokesman for the Elbe-Elster district, Torsten Hoffgaard, two Bundeswehr transport helicopters from the nearby Holzdorf site were already in action on Tuesday afternoon.
On Tuesday afternoon, the number of firefighters was increased again: a total of 480 rescue workers with 90 vehicles from several districts were deployed. The focus of the extinguishing work was near the Lönnewitz industrial park.
Brandenburg’s Interior Minister Michael Stübgen (CDU), who informed himself about the situation on Tuesday, was very concerned. As a result of detonations in the ground, new areas suspected of being used for munitions were discovered that had not previously been shown on maps.
Several roads, including a section of the B183 from Bad Liebenwerda to Torgau, had to be closed due to the major fire. The railway line from Leipzig to Cottbus was also affected by the fire: a section was closed to enable the fire engines to reach the flames quickly.