19.08.2022, Sachsen-Anhalt, Schierke: Roland Pietsch, Leiter des Nationalparks Harz steht vor einer verkohlten Waldfläche. In dem als "Quesenbank/Knaupsholz" bezeichneten Bereich hatte es vom 11. August 2022 bis 14. August 2022 auf gebrannt. Das Feuer hatte auf eine Fläche von 3,5 Hektar eingewirkt. 1,5 Hektar wurden dabei völlig verbrannt. Foto: Klaus-Dietmar Gabbert/dpa +++ dpa-Bildfunk +++

The German forest disappears. This year, 4,300 hectares of forest have already fallen victim to fires, more than at any time in the last hundred years. 2022 is the year of “record forest fires”, says the President of the German Fire Brigade Association, Karl-Heinz Banse. Many very large fires would have required long deployments by the fire brigade and tied up a lot of personnel, according to the balance sheet of the German fire brigade and the forest owner association. This is the difference to previous years.

Andreas Bitter, President of the Working Group of German Forest Owners’ Associations (AGDW), said his association estimated “the loss of wood alone at 30 to 40 million euros”. The total damage is around 600 million. Bitter spoke of a “continuation of the scenario since 2018”. In the beginning there were storms and drought, then came the bark beetle. Now fires were consuming the weakened forests.

According to scientific analyses, “up to 60 percent of the spruce and around 35 percent of the beech areas” would have to be replaced or mixed with resistant and other trees over the next 30 years, according to Bitter, in order to reforest burnt areas and make them more resistant. That is “a quarter of the German forest area”.

The fire brigade and forest owners made no political demands for climate protection when they appeared together. Fire Department President Banse called for more education to protect the forest – after all, 90 percent of the fires were due to human error. Willful arson is only one part, but cigarette butts are flicked out of the window on car routes in the forest, campfires are lit in front of a picturesque forest backdrop despite the ban. Rotting ammunition in forests is also a danger, he said – in Berlin’s Grunewald, exploratory ammunition had recently caused a major fire at a police detonation site.

Parking the car a little off the road on dry forest floor can also trigger forest fires if a hot catalytic converter hits dried vegetation. “You have to teach people how to behave again,” said Banse. However, except in specific cases of danger, they do not want people to be forbidden from entering the forest, both emphasized. The peak times of the pandemic, when the forests were particularly heavily visited, showed how important the forest is for people.

Both associations demanded more money. Preventive forest care is expensive, as is new technology for the fire brigades. Deadwood has to be increasingly transported out of the forests because it provides food for forest fires – not always, but in many cases – and stands in the way of operations. So that access lanes do not overgrow, they have to be cut and checked more regularly, which means additional effort for the forest owners. The necessary “continuous care of the forests” will burden owners with around half a billion euros per year in the next 30 years, said Bitter.

The sawmills benefited from the strong demand for wood, for example from the construction industry. The forestry business model is “going down the drain”. It is therefore “completely clear” that the forest owners “cannot cope alone” with the additional costs of fire prevention, forest maintenance and conversion. Since forest means biodiversity, water and soil protection, it is “also a task for society as a whole to do everything possible to stabilize our forests”.

Fire brigade association chief Banse called for lighter vehicles so that the fire brigades could move better on the forest floor. In addition, significantly more aircraft are needed to be able to observe fires from above and direct the operations.