Prosecutors are investigating the German armed forces after a fire caused by military rocket tests almost three weeks ago continued to burn across a moorland in northern Germany, a military spokesperson told CNN on Friday.
About 1,000 members of the army, police and fire services were on Friday battling the blaze, covering around eight square kilometers near Meppen, a town in northwest Germany close to the border with the Netherlands, the armed forces said in a statement.
The fire began on September 3 following two rocket tests, the statement said. The risk of fire was assessed before the tests and firefighting equipment was on hand, but the vehicle used to extinguish fires broke down on the way to a second outbreak, giving the embers time to spread deeper into the boggy surface of the moor.
The area affected is the equivalent of about 1,000 soccer fields, according to the armed forces.
Earlier this week, a local resident posted footage of the hazy sky near Meppen caused by the burning moorland.
An investigation into the cause of the fire was launched following a criminal complaint from a local politician, the armed forces spokesperson told CNN. The armed forces were also carrying out an internal investigation to determine whether regulations were followed.
As the fire continued to spread on Friday morning, the local authority of Emsland declared a catastrophe and urged the 1,100 residents of Stavern, a municipality just north of Meppen, to prepare for possible evacuation.
“The residents of Stavern are urged to remain calm, but as a precaution they should pack together the most important documents, such as identity papers and necessary medicines,” said local official Marc-André Burgdorf.
The armed forces said it was unclear how long it would take before the fire would be fully extinguished.
Germany, like many countries across Europe, has experienced a long, dry summer leading to tinderbox conditions in wooded and grassy areas.
There is currently a “very high danger” of weather-related fires in grasslands and forests, according to the German Weather Service.
Claudia Otto and Jessica Benne reported from Berlin. Judith Vonberg wrote in London.