By KIRSTEN GRIESHABER
BERLIN (AP) — A wildfire the size of more than 500 soccer fields spread southwest of the German capital on Friday, leading to the evacuation of three villages.
Efforts to extinguish the flames were complicated by old ammunition from World War II that is still buried in the forests around Berlin and could explode in the fire.
“The ammunition is very dangerous, because one cannot step on the ground and therefore one cannot get close to the fire” to extinguish it, Brandenburg Governor Dietmar Woidke told reporters.
More than 500 people had to leave their homes Thursday night as a result of the fire in the Treuenbrietzen region, some 50 kilometers (30 miles) outside of Berlin. Treuenbrietzen belongs to the eastern German state of Brandenburg.
“The fire continues to be a big threat,” Woidke said. “But we will do everything to protect people’s property.”
Local lawmaker Christian Stein said there had already been several detonations due to the ammunition, and that firefighters were not allowed to enter suspicious areas. Instead, the authorities were trying to douse the flames in those areas with firefighting helicopters and water cannons.
The fire started Thursday afternoon and spread quickly through the dry pine forests. By the evening, the authorities had evacuated the villages of Frohnsdorf, Klausdorf and Tiefenbrunnen.
“Something like that, we didn’t even experience during the war,” 76-year-old Anita Biedermann told dpa as police told her to grab her jacket, ID and important medication from her home before taking her to a nearby gym for the night.
Overnight, winds blew the smoke to Berlin, where people in some neighborhoods were asked to keep their windows closed. Berlin emergency services received calls from concerned Berliners who were woken by the strong smell of smoke.
More than 600 firefighters and soldiers were brought in to battle the wildfire. They were trying to cut trees to make long swaths in the forests to prevent the fire from spreading further. Several roads were closed and local train operators stopped their service in the area close to the fire.
Germany has seen a long, hot summer with almost no rain, and large parts of the country are on high alert regarding possible wildfires. Raimund Engel, who is in charge of forests in the state of Brandenburg, said 400 wildfires have already been reported this year.
“I hope the weather will play along and the winds won’t increase again,” Stein said. “We are yearning for rain.”