Air observers should prevent forest fires

Air observers should prevent forest fires

Above the clouds, freedom must be boundless – as reinhard mey sang in his hit song. For wolfgang weib, on the other hand, flying means that he has to concentrate completely. For the past 14 years, the 50-year-old has been one of a total of 94 volunteer air observers in franconia. With their control flights, they help to ensure that a small fire does not turn into a forest fire on the 23,000 square kilometers of rough flat land.

The air observers don't have to fly themselves – they have their own pilots for this purpose. The task of the air observers is to detect fires in good time. "If you spot a fire early, it's still pretty easy to put it out. The later it is discovered, the more difficult it becomes", explains weib. For this purpose, the man from coburg completed a one-week training course at the wurzburg state firefighting school. Radio and map reading are on the agenda there. To ensure that this knowledge does not become rusty, the air monitors complete a training course every year. The day before yesterday in coburg: "it's possible that an air observer hasn't been in the air for two years", says michael nickles of the bamberg city council, which organizes the exercise.

A fire truck is missing

In the scenario, a fire truck has crashed near the community of itzgrund – 20 kilometers south of coburg. The radio contact is broken off. Last information: the car must be somewhere in a forest near the community of itzgrund, about 20 kilometers south of coburg. Wolfgang weib finds the car after ten minutes, notifies the incident command center and directs two other fire engines to the scene of the accident. This procedure is similar in a real operation, says adolf nublein, vice president of the bavarian air rescue squadron: "if the air observers detect smoke, they fly over the site and report it to the control center. They then pass the information on to the fire department." Then the aerial observers have to guide the firefighters to the source of the fire "because you can see it better from the air than from the ground", nublein adds.

April is especially dangerous

"The drier it is and the higher the wind speed, the higher the danger level for forest fires, because that's when ground fires spread the fastest", explains klaus-peter wittich of the german meteorological service (DWD). Whether the air observers fly is decided by the respective district government. As a rule, this happens from level 4 of the 5-level forest fire danger scale issued by the DWD – upper franconia has its forests monitored from level 5 onwards.

In 2011, franconia's air observers flew eight missions – seven of them in april. "In spring, when the ground vegetation is totally yellowed, the risk of forest fires is very high, depending on the radiation", klaus-peter wittich explains this pile-up.

This year, the air observers were only deployed twice: at the end of april over central franconia, and today over upper franconia "because the drought is extreme", says michael nickles. Wolfgang weib can stay on the ground – this job will be done by someone else.

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