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Devastating forest fires in Brandenburg

Category: National Firefighting Team of the Year

Fire department: Freiwillige Feuerwehr Treuenbrietzen (Brandenburg)

Operation: Forest fires

At the end of August 2018, the largest forest fire in the history of Brandenburg occurred in Treuenbrietzen, circa 50 km southwest of Berlin in the Potsdam-Mittelmark region. In only a few hours, a sea of flames developed over an area of approximately 400 hectares. Three towns only about 100 meters from the affected areas had to be evacuated. 540 people from Tiefenbrunnen, Klausdorf and Frohnsdorf were asked to leave their homes. This marked the begin of a huge, nearly 8-day operation with over 5,000 helpers.

Alexander Spitzner, group leader of the Treuenbrietzen Voluntary Fire Brigade, who worked as a despatch rider during the first days of the forest fire, was on the way back from a customer appointment when his beeper went off. At this point he was very near Treuenbrietzen and could see thick clouds of smoke in the sky.

After arriving at the firehouse, the first vehicles had already left, and he left for the fire by motorcycle. The fire had already spread across a huge area. Radio communication with subsequently arriving vehicles was impossible due to lack of reception. He thus began intercepting the incoming vehicles and sending them to their deployment sites. Next, he obtained an overview of how far the fire had spread. Trees were downed across all roads and paths, making his progress very difficult. Following this, he rode to the section leader to report. There was still no reliable radio connection to other vehicles. Particularly in view of constantly exploding ammunition in the immediate vicinity, this was frightening.

Meanwhile, the technical head of operations had been set up and Alexander Spitzner was now tasked as a mobile messenger to convey orders, direct vehicles to where they were needed and continually reconnoitre the situation. The situation changed constantly. After a situation report assigning firefighters with containing a forest path to halt the spread of the fire, Spitzner was provided with six firetrucks, which he directed to the location in question. When the forces arrived, a normal ground fire had become an extensive crown fire. The flames simply jumped over the path. The situation was out of control, the heat was intensifying, and the firefighters had to retreat.

In the meantime, Alexander Spitzner had been joined by additional despatch riders. All they saw was a picture of devastation; tree trunks were burning like torches. Around 2:30 am, Spitzner returned to the Treuenbrietzen fire station and contacted his employer about the ongoing operation, to which no end was yet in sight.

The next morning, the fire station was full of food and beverages. Treuenbrietzen townspeople had donated these and some actively helped feed the firefighters. Alexander Spitzner again headed his motorcycle to the head of operations. Reconnoitre, report back and direct vehicles – these were now his tasks for the next days. He worked – taking only short breaks – for circa 16 to 18 hours per day.  But the indescribable appreciation from the population motivated him again and again.

When the situation calmed down somewhat, the forces and resources at the deployment site were reduced. Then, however, the stress for the Treuenbrietzen FD really began. For a whole week, in 24/7 shifts, three vehicles went from one burned area to the next to make sure that everything had been extinguished. After riding nearly 1,000 km in the forest, Alexander Spitzner’s service on the motorcycle was now over.

With personal reports from the operation, the Treuenbrietzen Volunteer Fire Department looks back on the exhausting work fighting this fire. Four more stories by FD firefighters can be found under