The number of wildfires during New York’s traditional high-fire period declined 33 percent in 2010, following the enactment of new restrictions on open burning, according to the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC). DEC forest rangers responded to 34 wildfires from March 15 to May 15 in 2010 compared to 51 during the same period in 2009.
New York enacted tighter restrictions on open burning in 2009 in an effort to reduce the impacts of airborne pollutants and to limit the risks of wildfires. While the new regulation allows residential brush burning for most of the year in towns with a population of less than 20,000, it prohibits open burning in all communities during early spring (March 15 – May 15) when the bulk of New York’s wildfires typically occur. Among the factors that enable wildfires to start easily and spread quickly at this time of year are warm temperatures, wind, the lack of green vegetation and the abundance of available fuels such as dry grass and leaves.
Open burning is the single largest cause of wildfires in New York State. Data from DEC’s Forest Protection Division show that debris burning accounted for about 40 percent of wildfires between 1986 and 2006 – more than twice the next most-cited source.
The numbers reported by DEC relate only to fires handled by DEC forest rangers and don’t include fires handled by local fire companies without state assistance. That data is expected later in the year when all counties finalize their reports. Counties that have reported preliminary data do show significant declines, such as Chenango (63 percent reduction), Sullivan (60 percent), Ulster (52 percent), Orange County (50 percent) and Allegany (31 percent).
A complete outline of common questions and answers on the open burning regulation is available online.