Wildfire caused by WWII ammunition in Germany: 18 May 2000

Wildfire caused by exploding WWII ammunition in Germany

18 May 2000

More than 100 firemen fought yesterday for hours the biggest forest fire at “Halbe/State Brandenburg” (Dahme-Spreewald) in this year. Until the early evening the fire was not under control. Although the relieving rain and the downpours ended the dry period for the 1.1 million hectares of forests in the Brandenburg region, the thundershower in the afternoon had not such a positive impact onto the fire extinguishment. On more than 15 hectares of a young pine forest stand the flames spread between “Halbe” and “Märkisch-Buchholz”. The fire department was supported by two modern fire-fighting helicopters of the Potsdam Department of the Interior. Fire brigades from all over the State were pulled together.

A shell from the Second World War had caused the fire, which self-ignited due to overheating by extreme hot weather conditions. Arson – which is predominating cause in this region – was excluded this time as the fire reason.

Especially shifting winds and a “Föhn” like southern wind made it difficult for the firefighters from 25 different fire brigades which were faced with numerous spotting fires until the rains finally supported the control of the extremely intensive crown fires. The deployment of ground forces turned to be extremely dangerous on the fire site. The burning forests stocked on a  former WWII battle-field which is still contaminated with ammunition buried underground and close to the surface. In April 1945 the Soviet army and the German armed forces (Wehrmacht) were engaged in a fierce tank battle in this area. Tons of ammunition deposit and waste from the second World War still lies in this region. Permanent explosions of shells were going on during the fire. Due to the high risk for the firemen, fire-fighting strategy was to let the fire burn, and to bring the fire under control at the edge of the burning area.

Since April 2000 the Department of the Interior of Brandenburg registered a total of 160 small fires.

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