Forest Fires Forces Evacuation of the Region along the River Elbe at the Czech-German Border
DRESDEN, GERMANY/ USTI NAD LABEM, CZECHIA- “A few years ago, we followed the forest fires that were devastating California and Greece. Now they are here and right at our footsteps.” Those were the comments made by Martin Dulig, Assistant to the Prime Minister Michael Kretschmer who governs the German state of Saxony.
Less than one week after the fire at the Basteibrücke in the Saxony Switzerland National Park near Lohmen, as covered by sister column The Bridgehunter’s Chronicles, a second, more powerful set of forest fires are wreaking havoc on the Elbe River Valley, flanked with forests extending from Pirna (SE of Dresden) to Teplice in Czechia, forcing residents to flee the region, and drawing in fire crews and even the police from different regions on both sides of the border, with heavy equipment and helicopters to battle the blazes and get people out of the region. A total of more than 1300 hectares of land on both sides of the border have burned, charring much of the rock cliffs that were until now become popular attraction for rock climbers and hikers. The steep cliffs combined with a rugged landscape plus lack of trails have hindered much of the progress. Because of the lack of rain, combined with high winds, it may be a few weeks until the flames are completely extinguished.
The cause of the fire is unknown, though arson has not been ruled out. It started on the Czech side on Sunday in the Bohemian Switzerland National Park. Over the course of two days, fires spread, forcing residents in towns like Vysoka Lipa, Hrensko and Menza to evacuate. The fires then crossed the border into the German state of Saxony on Monday and has since put the Saxony Switzerland National Park as well as the region in the vicinity of Bad Schandau in a dire situation. Smoke from the fires have reached as far as Dresden and Prague causing haze and problems with visibility. Extremely dry weather in connection with an exceptional drought this year has played a role in this blaze and has already been tied together with global warming, which had triggered forest fires in much of Europe. Fires have been frequent in other German states, such as North Rhine-Westphalia, Saxony Anhalt and Brandenburg. At the same time as this blaze there has been another forest fire at the Saxony-Brandenburg border in the Elbe-Elster District.
Already the District of Saxony Switzerland/ East Ore Mountain (OSE) and the District of Usti Nad Labem, where the national parks are located have already created an ordinance banning people from entering a forested area for any reason. For OSE, violators can face fines of between 2,500 to 10,000 Euros ($2,600 to $11,000). Train routes and shipping services along the Elbe in and around the area have been suspended until further notice. People are being advised to avoid the area at any cost and allow for crews to put out the blaze. Furthermore because of the extreme drought, people are advised to refrain from using any type of fire as the dry vegetation can serve as fuel for the fire. Already, cities like Chemnitz, have banned grilling in open spaces and districts in Saxony have odered residents not to draw water from the rivers and lakes for gardening.
After the droughts of 2018-2020 which dried up much of Germany and Europe, 2022 is shaping up to be the drought of the century. And even though this drought is a dwarf compared to the ones in California dn southern Europe, with global warming taking hold, this may be an overture of what is yet to come. And while governments are working on a plan to conserve water and plant greens in areas needed, including cities, it is up to the consumers to do their part in reducing global warmng. Should it not be successful in the coming decade, fires like this will be an annual occurrance, multiplying hundred fold and ten times in intensity.
With Germany being one of the most forested countries, can a person imagine it being the next California like we have over there, right now?