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Drought chokes shipping, sparks forest fire

Prolonged dry weather is disrupting shipping on some of Germany’s main waterways, the Rhine and Elbe rivers. The drought has also sparked a forest fire in Upper Bavaria.

Drought chokes shipping, sparks forest fire
The Rhine riverbed near Düsseldorf. Photo: DPA

The current water level of the Rhine is averaging 1.5 metres below average. And in Kaub, Rhineland-Palatinate, the river is flowing at a depth of a mere 56 centimetres, the lowest it has been all year.

Ralf Schäfer of the Waterways and Shipping Office for Bingen confirmed that this already low level is predicted to drop another five centimetres by the end of the week.

“It’s too difficult for ships to move in such low waters. Businesses are being damaged, companies are having to load 4,000 tonne capacity ships with a mere 1,000 tons of goods,” Schäfer said.

Many barges along the Rhine are stuck, with some ferry services being cancelled since Saturday.

“You can see every single stone on the riverbed,” said Susanne Maul of the Rhine-based ferry company Rheinfähre Maul.

Across the northeast of the country, the Elbe River, which stretches from Cuxhaven on the North Sea to the Czech Republic, is also suffering from the extreme lack of rain.

In Dresden, where the water level averages 2.4 metres high during the winter months, levels of 84 centimetres were reported on Tuesday. This is just over half a metre above the all time low of 26 centimetres recorded in 1948.

Water levels in neither the Elbe nor the Rhine are predicted to rise unless the country is hit by continuous heavy rainfall, but meteorologists are now predicting the driest November since recording began.

Click here for The Local’s weather forecast

This lengthy dry spell also helped spark a forest fire in Upper Bavaria, which started on Sunday afternoon on the south side of the Schwarzberg mountain, near Lenggries.

The flames soon reached several metres in height and quickly spread over an area of eight hectares, roughly the size of eight football pitches.

No-one was injured, and 150 firefighters along with 30 fire engines were dispatched to the scene.

Their initial efforts failed, however, to bring the inferno under control due to the dark conditions. Four helicopters were sent to dump water on the area which brought the fire under control late on Monday.

Police are using thermal imaging cameras to check for any remaining embers.

The cause of the fire is not yet known, but catastrophe expert Alexander Bauer of the Bad Tölz-Wolfratshausen authorities told public broadcaster Bayerischer Rundfunk the dry weather had aggravated the blaze.

DAPD/The Local/jcw

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WILDFIRES

Europe facing record year for wildfire destruction: EU

Europe's blistering summer may not be over yet, but 2022 is already breaking records, with nearly 660,000 hectares ravaged since January, according to the EU's satellite monitoring service.

Europe facing record year for wildfire destruction: EU

And while countries on the Mediterranean have normally been the main seats of fires in Europe, this year, other countries are also suffering heavily.

Fires this year have forced people to flee their homes, destroyed buildings and burned forests in EU countries, including Austria, Croatia, France, Greece, Italy, Portugal and Spain.

Some 659,541 hectares (1.6 million acres) have been destroyed so far, data from the European Forest Fire Information System (EFFIS) showed, setting a record at this point in the year since data collection began in 2006.

Europe has suffered a series of heatwaves, forest fires and historic drought that experts say are being driven by human-induced climate change.

They warn more frequent and longer heatwaves are on the way.

The worst-affected country has been Spain, where fire has destroyed 244,924 hectares, according to EFFIS data.

The EFFIS uses satellite data from the EU’s Copernicus Atmosphere Monitoring Service (CAMS).

READ ALSO: EXPLAINED: How the climate crisis is hitting Europe hard

The data comes after CAMS said Friday that 2022 was a record year for wildfire activity in southwestern Europe and warned that a large proportion of western Europe was now in “extreme fire danger”.

“2022 is already a record year, just below 2017,” EFFIS coordinator Jesus San-Miguel said. In 2017, 420,913 hectares had burned by August 13, rising to 988,087 hectares by the end of the year.

“The situation in terms of drought and extremely high temperatures has affected all of Europe this year and the overall situation in the region is worrying, while we are still in the middle of the fire season,” he said.

Since 2010, there had been a trend towards more fires in central and northern Europe, with fires in countries that “normally do not experience fires in their territory”, he added.

“The overall fire season in the EU is really driven mainly by countries in the Mediterranean region, except in years like this one, in which fires also happen in central and northern regions,” he added.

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