Emergency services are fighting forest fires in two places south-west of Berlin. The flames are so dense that hundreds have had to evacuate their homes. An 80-year-old fears for her house.

Dark clouds over the forest, acrid smoke in the air, a dramatic fight against the flames: Hundreds of people had to get to safety from forest fires in Brandenburg over the weekend. At Treuenbrietzen, the fire brigade and the Bundeswehr have been fighting a fire on the ground and from the air since Friday, which spread due to changing winds. Then on Sunday there was new bad news: about 20 kilometers away near Beelitz, another forest fire got out of control. In both cases, districts were evacuated.

Brandenburg’s Prime Minister Dietmar Woidke (SPD) and Interior Minister Michael Stübgen (CDU) informed themselves on Sunday afternoon in Treuenbrietzen. The situation is coming to a head dramatically, said Stübgen. Woidke said: “We have to expect the situation to get worse.” Around 600 people would have had to leave their homes. “There may be more evacuations,” he said. The Johanniter Hospital in Treuenbrietzen was also preparing to be evacuated as a precaution.

“We currently have 1,400 emergency services deployed,” said Woidke. Most of them are comrades from the volunteer fire brigades from Brandenburg, but there are also those from Saxony-Anhalt. In addition, help from Berlin is expected. According to Woidke, there are also Bundeswehr soldiers and forces from the technical relief organization and other rescue organizations.

Treuenbrietzen is about 80 kilometers southwest of Berlin and 40 kilometers from Potsdam. The fire broke out on Friday in a pine forest on 60 hectares. The situation seemed to stabilize on Saturday: the flames were contained to 40 hectares. But on Sunday night there was talk of around 100 hectares of fire area, on Sunday it was already 200 hectares. That corresponds to about 280 soccer fields. In 2018 there was a forest fire on 400 hectares in the same area. Woidke said the situation is now even more dramatic than in 2018.

The evacuated districts included Frohnsdorf, Tiefenbrunnen and Klausdorf. People left their homes quickly, with suitcases and bags, with dogs and cats, as the district spokeswoman, Andrea Metzler, said. “You know how it works, many were already in the situation in 2018 with the big forest fire.” Many people stayed with friends or relatives.

In addition, the town hall in Treuenbrietzen served as emergency accommodation. An approximately 80-year-old woman who had taken refuge there seemed visibly taken on Sunday afternoon. The worst thing is when you have to leave your house, turn the key and don’t know whether it will still exist tomorrow, she said in an interview with a dpa reporter.

Treuenbrietzen with a total of 7500 inhabitants has about a dozen districts. Overall, the city spreads over an area of ​​more than 200 square kilometers. For comparison: Berlin has almost 900 square kilometers.

The town center was almost deserted on Sunday afternoon, as a dpa reporter reported. There was a faint smell of scorching in the air. A police barrier was set up at the roundabout on the B102. Vehicles from the Federal Agency for Technical Relief drove through the town with blue lights flashing. A blue police water cannon had arrived to support the extinguishing work. The fire brigade was heading towards the blocked B102 with large fire engines. Behind them drove a column of the German Red Cross with several vans.

The fight against the flames is particularly difficult in the area: Because ammunition and explosive devices lie in the ground of a former blasting and training area, the firefighters cannot get close to the fire. If the fire goes through the area, ammunition hidden in the ground can explode. In dozens of fire-fighting flights, Bundeswehr helicopters therefore took tens of thousands of liters of water from a nearby quarry pond and extinguished it from above.

The second forest fire near Beelitz raged in the same district of Potsdam-Mittelmark. According to Mayor Bernhard Knuth, it had spread to 200 hectares by early evening – the same size as in Treuenbrietzen.

Some streets have already been evacuated, said Knuth. In addition, residents of other streets were asked to prepare for a possible evacuation. “We hope that the spread will stop and that we can ultimately successfully fight the fire,” said Knuth. The wind has calmed down a bit and there are no longer such strong gusts.

by Gudrun Janicke, Björn Graas, Monika Wendel and Verena Schmitt-Roschmann, dpa