BERLIN: An “unprecedented” fire broke out on Thursday around a German police munitions storage site in a popular forest in western Berlin, sending plumes of smoke into the skies and setting off explosions.

Firefighters were unable to tackle the blaze directly due to the danger of further blasts, with emergency services setting up a 1,000-metre (3,280-foot) safety zone around the site.

Berlin fire brigade spokesman Thomas Kirstein said the situation was “under control and there was no danger for Berliners” but that the fire was expected to last for some time. Around 250 emergency personnel were deployed to the site.

The army sent in a tank aimed at evacuating munitions at the affected storage site as well as remote-controlled de-mining robots, while drones circled the air to assess the emergency. Water cannons were also deployed around the safety zone to prevent the fire from spreading. Berlin mayor Franziska Giffey interrupted her holiday to visit the scene, calling the events “unprecedented in the post-war history of Berlin”.

Giffey advised Berliners to close their windows but said the danger was minimal as there were no residential buildings within a two-kilometre radius and so no need to issue evacuation orders.

“It would be much more difficult if there were residential buildings nearby,” she said.

Firefighters called to the site in the middle of the night were confronted with intermittent blasts that sent debris flying and hindered their work. No one has been hurt by the fires, which came as a heatwave enveloped Germany.

Scientists say climate change is making heatwaves around the world more frequent and more intense, which increases the risk of fires. Police said they were investigating what set off the fire.

Published in Dawn, August 5th, 2022

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