Large fires in the Harz National Park, a disaster, but also large fires in other parts of the country - 2022 was particularly demanding for the emergency services. The topic of forest fire prevention will remain an important topic in 2023.
Halberstadt/Wernigerode (dpa/sa) - The state center for forest has recorded 167 forest fires on an area of 98 hectares in Saxony-Anhalt for the current year. "The year 2022 is one of the years with the highest risk of forest fires," said a spokeswoman in Halberstadt when asked. However, the area covered is still behind 2018, which was characterized by a particularly long period of drought. At that time, 171 fires were recorded on 113 hectares. As the spokeswoman further stated, the Landeszentrum Wald does not record the areas of the national park or agriculturally used areas in the statistics.
When asked about the biggest fire this year, the Landeszentrum Wald gave one in Calvörde (Börde district) on July 20th. 25 hectares were affected there. The second largest fire was a fire on August 6th in Schönhausen on the Elbe with ten hectares. In Gräfenhainichen, 2.86 hectares caught fire on March 23, it said.
This year there were also several fires in the 25,000 hectare Harz National Park. In the rough terrain, they could only be extinguished with great effort. For days at the beginning of September, around 1,800 emergency services fought against flames near Schierke. The district declared a disaster because its own forces were no longer sufficient. International support came for the first time, Italian fire-fighting planes helped, as did several fire-fighting helicopters.
The drought, the bark beetle and violent storms have changed the vegetation in the national park within a few years, and huge stands of spruce have died. This deadwood caught fire in places. There was disagreement about the extent of the affected areas, the last time ten hectares were given for the fire at the beginning of September.
The causes of the forest fires are difficult to determine because the affected area is large and traces are difficult to make out. Possible traces are destroyed by the fire or extinguishing work. This is exemplified by the figures from the Harz police station: until shortly before Christmas, the police conducted 87 investigations in connection with forest and wildfires, 7 of them in the Harz National Park. A suspect was identified in a total of 6 cases. The investigation into the major fire at the beginning of September is still ongoing.
There was a heated debate about the deadwood that characterizes large parts of the national park. The district administrator of the Harz district, Thomas Balcerowski, sees it as the greatest danger. The dead wood leads to large fires in areas that are often difficult to access. Prevention is the order of the day, Balcerowski announced in mid-November. According to the principle of the national park, however, there should be as little interference with nature as possible.
The nature conservation association Nabu Saxony-Anhalt went to court because, in its view, too much dead wood was removed from the forests. The conservationists criticized a severe loss of biodiversity and saw the measures as incompatible with nature conservation law. At the beginning of December, a comparison between Nabu and the national park became public. This included the fact that wood that had been produced when firebreaks were laid in the summer and in the vicinity of Schierke could be removed from the national park. Further measures on the outskirts of the tourist resort on the Brocken were not allowed to continue. There should first be an FFH compatibility test. In addition, environmental organizations are to be more closely involved in the future.
In a "Wernigerode Declaration" concluded at the end of September, the district, the city of Wernigerode and the national park agreed on preventive measures. It was agreed, for example, that more dead trees should be removed, in particular to protect places. In addition, the Harz National Park should create more firebreaks so that the fire brigade can reach fire sites better. The national park, fire brigade and the district of Harz should decide where and to what extent the aisles will be created.