Open burning of debris is the largest single cause of wildfires in the state. As temperatures get warmer and grasses and leaves dry out, wildfires can start and spread easily. These fires can be further fueled by winds and the lack of green vegetation.
New York adopted tougher restrictions on open burning in 2009 to help prevent wildfires and reduce pollution emissions. The regulations allow residential brush fires in towns during most of the year but prohibit such burning in spring months when most wildfires occur. Campfires using charcoal or untreated wood are allowed but should not be left unattended and must be extinguished after use. Burning garbage or leaves is prohibited year-round.
Data for 2010-2013, showed a 56 percent reduction in wildfires during the burn ban period for these years as compared to the previous five years. In addition, 80 percent of all communities across New York had a reduction in the number of fires as compared to the previous 10 years.
Violators of the open burning state regulation are subject to both criminal and civil enforcement actions, with a minimum fine of $500 for a first offense.
Some towns, primarily in and around the Adirondack Park and Catskill Park, are designated “fire towns” and open burning is prohibited year-round in these municipalities unless an individual or group has a written permit from DEC. To find out whether a municipality is designated a “fire town” or to obtain a permit, contact the appropriate DEC regional office. A list of regional offices is available at the DEC website.