More than 30 degrees, little rain and prolonged drought - a little carelessness is enough to start a forest fire. You should pay attention to this during walks and excursions.
Warning level orange, red, dark red - according to the forest fire risk index of the German Weather Service, there is a high risk of forest fires in large parts of Germany. Two experts explain what you should know about forest fires - and how to behave correctly now.
What causes the great risk of forest fires?
"Very low humidity at high temperatures and a situation with the vegetation that is beginning now," explains Rainer Städing, honorary spokesman for the Bund Deutscher Forstleute. The fresh green and also fire-retardant vegetation begins to wither and dry up due to the summer temperatures. Often all that is needed is a spark or a piece of embers. The forest can already be on fire.
What triggers forest fires in Germany?
According to Städing, most forest fires are caused by humans. "Intentional ignition is not the most common cause, although of course it also exists," said the former forester. The main reason is careless behavior, such as the carelessly thrown away cigarette butt - even from the car. "The cigarette really glows again because of the headwind. If it then falls into a dry embankment at the edge of a forest, it starts to burn."
The forest fire statistics of the Federal Office for Agriculture and Food break it down in detail: In 2020, the cause of more than half of the 1360 reported fires remained unclear. The most common causes of forest fires were negligence (309 times) and intent (253 times). In only 32 cases are natural factors a trigger - such as a lightning strike.
Can broken glass start a forest fire?
No, says Ulrich Cimolino, chairman of the forest fire working group at the German Fire Brigade Association (DFV). Even under ideal conditions, this could not be proven in experiments. Whether with shards or the bottom of the bottle - the necessary ignition temperature was never reached. It is therefore a myth that shards can trigger a forest fire via an alleged burning glass effect. Apart from that, broken glass has no place in the forest.
However, it is possible that a clear plastic or glass bottle full of clear liquid could, under ideal conditions, start a fire. However, Cimolino rates the risk as low: "The bottle has to be full and the sunlight has to shine through at a certain angle for a certain time."
Can my car cause a forest fire?
In short: yes. With its hot exhaust system, a car can set fire to ground cover very easily. For example, according to TÜV Thüringen, the catalytic converter can heat up to several hundred degrees Celsius. If you park such a hot car on dry grass or dry forest floor, it can trigger a vegetation fire.
What do I do if I notice a forest fire?
"It's better to call the fire brigade more often than not enough," says Ulrich Cimolino. The better the location information is, the faster the search for the fire and firefighting can begin. Nobody should be afraid of costs. Anyone who reports a forest fire in good faith will not receive an invoice or notification.
Often, however, forest visitors cannot explain exactly where they are, says forester Rainer Städing. "But there are apps that are geared towards the forest and orientation in emergencies." The "Help in the forest" app (Android/iOS), for example, shows you the nearest rescue point, and the reference code can help rescue workers with their orientation.
Should I extinguish small incipient fires myself?
"First call the fire brigade, then extinguish it yourself," says forest fire expert Cimolino. If the fire brigade is alerted, you can also try to extinguish the fire yourself. "I can do that with water when I have water." Or you take branches with leaves and try to smother the fire, or trample it down with sturdy shoes. Always pay attention to your own safety. If the flames or the burning area are too large, it is better to get to safety. "Extinguishing properly and sustainably is difficult without sufficient water and tools," says Cimolino.
How do I behave in general if there is a risk of fire?
The German Weather Service (DWD) assesses the forest fire risk in stages. If the forest fire risk is greatly increased, the forest authority can even impose an entry ban. The prohibitions are often marked by appropriate signs and should be followed. Basic bans, such as a ban on smoking in the forest or lighting a fire, for example for barbecuing, can exist regardless of the applicable forest fire level. "Then it's better to wait with the cigarette until you get back to the parking lot," recommends forester Rainer Städing. And then press them out on the gravel with enough distance to the vegetation.
Is grilling even possible in summer?
It is important not to barbecue or light a campfire directly in the forest or on neighboring meadows during excursions. It doesn't matter if the fireplace is on a lake. A flying spark can cause damage in the immediate vicinity. The German Forest Protection Association therefore advises maintaining a minimum distance of 100 meters between the fireplace and the edge of the forest in areas bordering on forests. In some federal states, this is required by law either all year round or for the period from spring to around the end of October. The same applies to smoking in the forest.