Five fires a day on training grounds
The fire problem on Bundeswehr training grounds is far more extensive than previously known. The German Ministry of Defence counted a total of 1994 fires last year, which broke out as a result of firing exercises or for other reasons. Almost 7 million square metres of area were affected.
The information comes from the answer to a written question by the defence policy spokesman and deputy chairman of the Left Party in the Bundestag, Ali Al-Dailami. One of the backgrounds to the question was the moorland fire in autumn 2018 in a nature reserve near Meppen in Emsland. After missile tests on behalf of the Bundeswehr on about 1000 hectares, a fire had smouldered there for a whole month. At the time, up to 1700 emergency personnel were involved in extinguishing it.
In the answer, the ministry provides information on twelve military training areas in various federal states, including Bergen, Lehnin, Munster and Putlos. With 1860 incidents, most of the fires occurred on terrain with forest, grass, moor or other vegetation. In addition, 19 buildings and 26 vehicles, including seven tanks, burned.
One of the largest fires last year was at the military training area in Baumholder in Rhineland-Palatinate, which is said to have broken out on an artillery firing range, among other places. In total, more than 200 hectares were in flames there. Fighting such fires is made more difficult by ammunition lying around, which can explode in the intense heat.
“With an area of more than 1000 torched football fields last year and an average of more than five fires per day, it is clear that the German Armed Forces are grossly negligent and amateurish in planning and conducting firing exercises,” Ali Al-Dailami commented on the response from the Ministry of Defence. “To again and again accept the torching of entire forest areas is irresponsible,” says Al-Dailami and criticises a “catastrophic indifference towards the environment and nature”.
The ministry does not provide any information on the causes of the fires. “No records are kept on this,” it says in justification. The fires are not only started during shooting training itself. The cartridge cases can produce sparks during regular mowing of the areas, which can ignite dry grass. The shells are therefore to be collected by the soldiers.
The ministry is evasive when asked about plans to stop shooting training in case of an acute danger of forest fires. The commandant’s office of the military training areas, together with the fire brigade of the German Armed Forces, makes a “daily assessment of the forest fire danger”, it says succinctly.
Published in German in „nd“.
Image: Mooreland fire in Meppen (MoD).