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German forest fires quadrupled in 2018

June 22, 2019

The number of forest fires in Germany jumped fourfold last year, setting a 15-year high. Hot, dry conditions have increased threat levels, and there are concerns local fire brigades are ill-equipped to respond.

A fireman with a hose in a burnt forest in Brandenburg
Image: picture-alliance/dpa/M. Kappeler

There were 1,708 forest fires in Germany in 2018 — more than four times as many as the previous year, the Rheinische Post newspaper reported Saturday.

It was the highest number of blazes recorded in the country since 2003.

The fires last year burned through more than 2,300 hectares of forest, compared to the 400 hectares destroyed in 2017.

The figures are based on a government response to a request from the Free Democrats (FDP).

Read moreClimate change sets the world on fire

Forest fires in Brandenburg
Fires fanned by winds spread quickly through Brandenburg in 2018Image: picture-alliance/dpa/P. Pleul

Brandenburg hit hardest

Firefighters were deployed far more often in Germany's east than in the west, according to the report.

The most blazes — 512 in total — were recorded in the state of Brandenburg. Huge wildfires broke out there in August amid a prolonged drought and an unusually hot summer.

"The number of forest fires is increasing," the FDP's Karlheinz Busen told the Post. "Germany is poorly prepared to fight the coming challenges posed by wildfires." 

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A military helicopter carries water over a forest
German military helicopters were deployed to fight last year's Brandenburg firesImage: Reuters/Luftwaffe/Johannes Heyn

Call for more equipment

In Germany, municipal authorities are responsible for fighting fires, not the federal government. However, local fire brigades can request federal and regional state assistance, including the provision of police and military vehicles during major emergencies. 

Busen told the Post the system needed to be reformed, saying municipalities simply "cannot buy firefighting helicopters and firefighting aircraft."

He pointed to Brandenburg as an example, which has "relatively few firetrucks at its disposal."

Read moreGerman forest fire risk spikes amid high temperatures, drought

Earlier this year, Germany's fire brigade federationcalled for military helicopters to be kept on standby to help douse flames in the event of fires during the 2019 summer season.

A spokeswoman from the Interior Ministry said an extra €100 million ($111 million) had been set aside to fund firefighting and disaster protection measures from 2019 to 2022.

nm/jm (AFP, dpa)

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