'Unprecedented' fire rips through munitions site in Berlin forest

An “unprecedented” fire broke out Thursday around a German police munitions storage site in a popular forest in western Berlin, sending plumes of smoke into the skies and setting off a series of explosions.

The fire began in the Grunewald forest in the early hours of the morning, with residents reporting a series of explosions.

Firefighters were initially unable to tackle the blaze directly due to the danger of further blasts, with emergency services setting up a 1,000-metre (3,280-foot) safety zone around the site.

Around 250 emergency personnel were deployed to the site.

The fire had spread across 50 hectares by the evening, according to police, but the emergency services were hoping to bring it under control overnight.

The most dangerous zones have been identified and firefighters have been cleared to proceed to within 500 metres of the blaze in some areas, they said.

The army had earlier sent in a tank aimed at evacuating munitions at the affected storage site as well as remote-controlled de-mining robots, while drones circled the air to assess the emergency.

– Heatwave –

Water cannons were also deployed around the safety zone to prevent the fire from spreading.

But authorities said no firefighting helicopters were available as they were already in use to tackle forest fires in eastern Germany.

They also said the 1,000-metre safety zone applied to the air, so there was a limit to how useful it would be to drop water on the fire from above.

Berlin mayor Franziska Giffey interrupted her holiday to visit the scene, calling the events “unprecedented in the post-war history of Berlin”.

Giffey advised Berliners to close their windows but said the danger was minimal as there were no residential buildings within a two-kilometre (1.2-mile) radius and so no need to issue evacuation orders.

Road and rail traffic had been disrupted but was expected to return to normal in the course of the evening.

The fire came as a heatwave swept across Germany, with temperatures hitting 39 degrees Celsius (102 Fahrenheit) on Thursday.

Scientists say climate change is making heatwaves around the world more frequent and more intense, which increases the risk of fires.

Germany has suffered a series of forest fires this summer, with Brandenburg — the state that surrounds Berlin — among the hardest hit areas, along with the mountainous parts of Saxony state.

– Unexploded bombs –

Police said they were investigating what set off the fire in Grunewald.

The store holds munitions uncovered by police, but also unexploded World War II-era ordnance which is regularly dug up during construction works.

German media questioned the wisdom of having a bomb disposal site located in a major city.

“At least 25 tons of World War II ammunition and illegal fireworks were hoarded at the munitions site there, in the middle of the forest. How can this be?” Berlin newspaper BZ asked.

Cyclist Hellmut Schmidt, 64, who commutes through the forest to work, told AFP that “when you see all these fires, of course you worry”.

“But I don’t know where else you could have (a munitions site) in Berlin… If it was further from the city, then it would also be dangerous with the transport because something could explode,” he said.

Giffey said local authorities would “have to think about how to deal with this munitions site in the future and whether such a place is the right one in Berlin”.

The German capital is rarely hit by forest fires, even though its 29,000 hectares of forests make it one of the greenest cities in the world.

Heavy thunderstorms are expected to sweep into the country from the west on Friday, the German weather service said.

A cold front is predicted to bring temperatures down by more than 10C overnight in western Germany, falling to around 20-25C on Friday.

Firefighters battle blaze in northwestern Spain
Madrid (AFP) Aug 4, 2022 – Firefighters backed by more than 20 aircraft battled a wildfire in northwestern Spain which appears to have been started deliberately, local authorities said on Thursday.

Fanned by strong winds and a heatwave, the blaze has already destroyed some 600 hectares (1,500 acres) of forest and scrubland in Galicia, the regional government said in a statement.

“Everything indicates it was started intentionally,” it said.

The fire started out on Wednesday in several spots near the town of Verin near the border with Portugal, which is experiencing its worst drought in a century.

They authorities said the blaze did not currently pose a threat to “inhabited areas”.

Scientists say human-induced climate change is making extreme weather events including heatwaves and droughts more frequent and more intense. They in turn increase the risk of fires, which emit climate heating greenhouse gases.

Spain has battled 354 wildfires since the start of the year, fuelled by scorching temperatures and drought conditions.

The flames have destroyed nearly 230,000 hectares, more than in any other nation in Europe, according to the European Union’s satellite monitoring service EFFIS.

Since the weekend, much of Spain has been in the grip of its third heatwave since June.

Temperatures are set to soar above 40 degrees Celsius (104 degrees Fahrenheit) on Thursday in the south and east.

US man starts wildfire by trying to burn a spider
Washington (AFP) Aug 4, 2022 – A Utah man was detained this week after he started a wildfire when he tried to kill a spider using a lighter, the local sheriff’s office said.

Twenty-six-year-old Cory Martin “was found where the fire started and told police he tried to kill a spider with a lighter and in the process started a fire,” the Utah County Sheriff’s office said in a Facebook post.

The US state has been in the grip of a severe drought — along with much of the country’s southwest — as part of a two-decade phenomenon scientists say is being exacerbated by climate change.

The fire, sparked Tuesday near the city of Springville, an hour south of the state capital Salt Lake City, covered 60 acres and was 90 percent contained by Wednesday, according to Utah Fire Info.

Martin, 26, was booked “for reckless burning, a class A misdemeanor, possession of marijuana and possession of drug paraphernalia, both class B misdemeanors,” the sheriff’s office said, adding that he has since been bailed.

“I have a pretty good idea what he was doing with that lighter,” one Facebook user commented on the sheriff’s office post — in a wink to the cannabis sheriffs say was found in Martin’s possession.

“We could not prove what you’re thinking,” the office wrote back.

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