Series of explosions hamper attempts to tackle Berlin forest fire | Germany

Repeated explosions have prevented firefighters in Berlin from reaching a fire in a forest in the southwest of the city that started at a police ammunition site used to store World War II bombs.

The fire broke out early Thursday morning after unexploded ordnance was accidentally detonated, Berlin police said.

The forest, in the wealthy Grunewald district of the German capital, is popular with city dwellers, from swimmers to dog walkers.

The fire raged in an area of ​​approximately 1.5 hectares (3.7 acres). About 100 firefighters are on the scene but were unable to get within 1,000 meters of the flames due to a series of explosions caused by the heat.

The Berlin Fire Department said drought-like conditions had already made the forest susceptible to fires. An unprecedented number of forest fires elsewhere in Germany also means there is a shortage of fire fighting helicopters to fight the blaze.

The police grounds are used to store unexploded ordnance, ranging from seized illegal fireworks to WWII ammunition regularly found on construction sites in the city.

Periodically controlled explosions are carried out by site experts to safely dispose of the stockpile, but since June there have been no detonations due to the dry conditions, resulting in more explosives being stored than usual.

Fire trucks and ambulances on standby at the Grunewald forest in Berlin.
Fire trucks and ambulances on standby at the Grunewald forest in Berlin. Photo: Christophe Gateau/AP

The fire also shut down a section of the overground S-Bahn, disrupting public transport in the city and disrupting long-distance trains to Amsterdam, and shutting down the Avus autobahn.

The nearest residential building was nearly 2 miles away and people in the area were urged to close windows and doors and turn off air conditioning equipment via cell phone and radio warnings. Clouds of thick gray smoke dominated the skyline and the sounds of explosions could be heard for several miles. No injuries were reported.

The police and fire brigade used drones and helicopters to measure the development of the fire and take measures to stop the spread, including watering the forest edge. A spokesman said three separate fires had been identified.

The intensity of the heat held back the forces, he said, adding that it was necessary to bring in new firefighters regularly due to heat-related exhaustion. Reinforcements have been called in from other parts of Germany.

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Jan Thomsen, of the Berlin environmental service, said the lack of rain allowed the fire to start quickly.

He said the forests were bone dry and “unable to recover due to the long periods of drought.” When asked by reporters whether it was wise to have an explosives site in a forest, he said: “We will need to resolve these safety questions once the cause of the fire has been determined”.

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