Bonn. According to experts, the risk of forest fires in Bonn and the Rhein-Sieg district is unusually high for the end of June. There were two fires in Windeck on Wednesday. In Lohmar, too, the fire brigade was called out.
The fire brigade in Windeck was not able to rest even late on Wednesday evening. After a part of forest had burned down in the afternoon, the firefighters moved out again around 9.54 pm. According to the fire brigade, 500 square meters of forest ground were on fire near the road next to the forester's lodge in Wilberhofen. The fire brigade had to fetch the extinguishing water in a shuttle service with fire engines. It was not until around midnight that the 25 firefighters were able to move away again.
There had already been a fire in the forest between Lohmar-Ort and Inger on Wednesday afternoon. As the fire brigade reported to the GA on site, passers-by had reported a smoke development. And rightly so, as it turned out. In a dry coniferous tree population, the undergrowth burned on a larger area of about 100 to 200 square meters. The fire brigade fought the fire and was able to get it under control quickly. A total of around 30 people were deployed.
An area of forest between Windeck-Dattenfeld and Windeck-Schladern was also on fire on Wednesday afternoon. On the arrival of the Windecker fire brigade, alarmed at 2.05 p.m., around 500 square metres of forest floor burned on a steep slope. To supply the water, they built a water supply line from the Sieg over a distance of about 1200 meters. The fire brigade was on site with a total of ten vehicles and 35 firefighters. The Red Cross supplied the firemen with drinks in the extreme heat. The mission led by Daniel Walter was completed around 5.45 pm.
These are not the first forest fires this year: a fire on the embankment in Troisdorf in mid-June caused train delays. In the Hurst district of Windeck, around 600 square metres of forest were on fire in April. Both fires were put out easily, but show how quickly a fire can develop and spread in dry, hot weather. In view of the current temperatures and drought, the Regional Forestry Office Rhein-Sieg-Erft has issued warning levels three to four for forest fires.
"It's really dangerous at the moment," forest office manager Uwe Schölmerich told the GA. The reason is not only the heat, but also the strong, dry wind: "It acts like a hair dryer, leaves and twigs in the forest are dried out and are therefore extremely easily combustible", explains Schölmerich, "in addition, an emerging fire spreads very quickly due to the wind“.
Whether in Kottenforst, Siebengebirge, Vorgebirge or Bergisches Land - the danger of forest fires is currently high everywhere in Bonn and the region. A carelessly thrown away cigarette butt is enough, says Schölmerich: "A bad custom, which is responsible for some fires“.
Call 112 immediately in the event of a forest fire
The increased danger can also easily be seen in the current street scene: "The grass on the roadside is already yellow and brown in many places," says the Forestry Office Manager - with this degree of dryness, an embankment fire can quickly develop.
What surprises Schölmerich is that "such a high risk of forest fire is untypical for the season". Actually, the period of great heat and drought does not begin until mid-July to the end of August. "If the weather remains like this, the danger of forest fires will increase even further," he fears.
Whoever notices a forest fire should immediately call 112, advises the head of the forestry office. If the fire is still small, one could try to beat it out with branches without putting oneself in danger. Schölmerich points out in this connection, urgently, that smoking and grilling in the forest and in the periphery of 100 meters from March to October are forbidden. If you are caught smoking or barbecuing, you will not only face a heavy fine, you could also be charged.
Shard becomes a burning glass
Achim Urmes of the federal forestry company Rhein-Weser says that danger could also emanate from left-over glass and broken glass. "Under such extreme sun, a piece of broken glass can have an igniting burning effect," he explains. Therefore, glass should always be taken with you. This applies generally to everything which is brought into the forest, stats Urmes regarding left behind garbage.
Particular caution also applies to the Wahner Heide. "If there is a fire, it is even more explosive there," says Urmes and explains: "The Wahner Heide is one of the oldest military training areas in Germany. There are still legacies of these eras. In theory, this can have an impact in the event of a fire," says the deputy director. This means that any ammunition lying there could possibly go off in the event of a fire. However, this has not yet happened, says Urmes. Due to the past use, a hazard prevention ordinance applies in Wahner Heide. Surfaces off the checked and allowed walkways may not be entered, explain the expert.
Lack of equipment and specialists
If a large forest fire breaks out, however, the appropriate equipment and experts to fight it are lacking. "It is indeed the case that the federal states and the federal government do not have a single fire-fighting aircraft," said Marianne Suntrup, spokeswoman for the Federal Office for Civil Protection and Disaster Relief, to our editorial team last year.
In order to fight forest fires from the air, helicopters are more likely to be used in Germany. But there is obviously a considerable shortage of helicopters, too, said the renowned forest fire expert and fire director Ulrich Cimolino, who is also a member of the Association of Fire Brigades, in 2018. In Germany, only the Bundeswehr, the Bundespolizei, and occasionally the Länderpolizei (e.g. Bavaria) and individual private providers had helicopters needed for such missions. "And of the approximately 40 larger helicopters of the Bundeswehr, about half are usually in use and the other half are either broken, on training flights or maintenance work," emphasized Cimolino, who received his doctorate in the field of forest fires.
Major problems with spreading fires
Overall, the increasing risk of forest fires in recent years has been underestimated by many, he said. Forest owners and others involved in averting danger must work hand in hand. Not only are preventive measures often lacking, such as usable paths or water intake points, but also specialised equipment and qualified personnel. "We have far too few specialists for fighting forest fires," said Cimolino. An oversight that could not be corrected in the short term.
Unlike Sweden or federal states such as Brandenburg, NRW has mixed forests with a high proportion of deciduous forest in large parts. "That's good, because oaks and beeches don't catch fire as quickly as pines and spruces, which burn like tinder in dry weather," said Cimolino. But even with this vegetation, a large-scale forest fire cannot be prevented. "As long as a forest fire remains small, the situation can be controlled. But if the fire spreads, we in NRW also have major problems, and the situation becomes very difficult to control," said the fire director.
Fire-fighting is a matter for the federal states
In Germany, fire fighting is a matter for the federal states. And the federal states pass the responsibility for this on to the cities and municipalities. This is no different when it comes to fighting forest fires. "And the communities themselves decide how to set up and equip a fire brigade within the framework of certain guidelines," says Christoph Schöneborn, Managing Director of the Association of Fire Brigades (VdF). Unlike in Sweden, however, there is a very tight network of fire brigades in North Rhine-Westphalia that could be on the spot quickly in an emergency. Besides the routes are substantially shorter. In addition the fire-brigade in North-Rhine Westphalia is the only federal state which has 20 so-called supra-local aid units, which consist in each case of 120 men and are distributed over the whole country. "They are alerted in the event of a major forest fire," says Schöneborn.
Should a forest fire reach a dimension that goes beyond national borders, the Federal Office for Civil Protection and Disaster Relief intervenes. This is where the "Joint Reporting and Situation Centre of the Federal Government and the Länder" (GMLZ) is located. It is staffed around the clock throughout the year and monitors and analyses population protection-relevant situations at federal level. In addition, the GMLZ provides bottleneck resources for special events - such as last year's forest fires in Sweden, firefighters and helicopters. "The GMLZ then examines which site can provide the resource in question," explains Suntrup.
Original text: Alexander Hertel, Christian Schwerdtfeger, Anna Maria Beekes
Translation: Mareike Graepel