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Saxony arms itself in the fight against forest fires

Smoke rises into the sky from a forest fire area / Photo: Robert Michael/dpa/Symbolic image
Smoke rises into the sky from a forest fire area / Photo: Robert Michael/dpa/Symbolic image

Saxony is planning to purchase three police helicopters to fight forest fires.

Saxony is arming itself in the fight against forest fires. The first of three police helicopters that can also be used to extinguish forest fires is to be delivered by the end of the year. This was announced by Interior Minister Armin Schuster on Tuesday in Dresden after a cabinet meeting. A total of around 60 million euros will be invested in the three new helicopters.

The machines have been ordered, but there are delivery problems in the industry, said Schuster. "Every season in which we don't have a helicopter, I'm worried," said the CDU politician. The aim in future is to extinguish fires at an early stage through the coordinated deployment of forces on the ground and in the air.

Schuster also referred to the additional 30 million euros that have been earmarked for forest fire disaster control. This year, seven million euros are available for this purpose, followed by ten million euros in each of the next two years. The money will be spent on large fire engines, off-road vehicles and mobile technology for locating pockets of embers, among other things. Several orders have already been placed, emphasized Schuster. The first vehicles are to be delivered in March.

The Minister of the Interior also referred to the forest fire protection concept that is to be implemented. Saxony had set up an expert commission following the devastating forest fires in the summer of 2022. In March last year, the experts presented more than 100 proposals - among other things, they recommended focusing forest conversion even more on mixed forests with deciduous trees. Deadwood should be removed if it blocks escape routes. A better water supply is also one of the recommendations.

Environment Minister Wolfram Günther pointed out that a lot has already been done. "We are promoting the construction of wells and cisterns for extinguishing water in municipalities and have purchased mobile cisterns and mobile extinguishing equipment," said the Green politician. There is also more staff for fire protection monitoring in the national park, for example. Furthermore, forest conversion to less fire-prone mixed forests is being driven forward. Forest paths should be managed in such a way that fire departments can use them more easily, said Günther. The focus must increasingly be on prevention. "Every fire that doesn't start in the first place doesn't have to be extinguished afterwards."

In addition to various smaller fires, Saxony also had to extinguish three major fires in forests in the summer of 2022. In addition to the Saxon Switzerland National Park, the Gohrischheide and a forest near Arzberg in northern Saxony were affected - a total of around 12 square kilometers of forest. Almost 9000 firefighters were deployed at the time.

Because of the partially rainy summer, there were fewer forest fires in Saxony last year than in the previous year. According to a preliminary tally by the state forestry company Sachsenforst, 102 forest fires were counted. In 2022, 215 fires had been reported.

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