German Defence Minister Ursula von der Leyen has apologised for a fire on a dried-up bog in northern Germany that was ignited by a rocket tests at a nearby military test site.
The large-scale blaze, burning now for more than two weeks in the state of Lower Saxony, has put thousands of local residents at risk of evacuation and affected an area totalling 800 hectares – the equivalent of 1,000 football fields.
“I apologise in the name of the Bundeswehr (German military) to all people in the region currently suffering the effects of the fire,” Von der Leyen told the regional newspaper Neue Osnabruecker Zeitung, ahead of a visit planned for today.
The minister called the fire an “extremely serious incident that should not have happened”.
An investigation would be conducted into whether munitions testing on the dry moorland was “necessary and responsible”.
The apology came as local authorities in Lower Saxony said a third community might face evacuation if the wind pushed smoke from the fire in their direction.
The announcement affected 7,500 residents of Soegel, a spokesman for the Emsland region said.
Preparations were already being made to evacuate 1,000 residents in the areas of Gross Stavern and Klein Stavern.
With high winds fanning the fire, local councillor Reinhard Winter said an evacuation could not be ruled out.
“A firm prediction is impossible at the moment, but it may be expected that the dangers from the smoke and flying sparks could get worse,” Winter said.
Attempts to douse the flames have been hampered by remains of munitions in the area and by the fact that the fire is also burning underground.
The blaze on a military training ground was started earlier this month when a helicopter fired a rocket.
The effects of the smoke have at times been marked 100km away.
Prosecutors said on Thursday that they had launched an investigation into the fire.
Medical professionals urged more detailed measurement of air pollution in the region.
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