Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) has reminded residents that with spring approaching conditions for wildfires will become heightened and residential brush burning is prohibited through May 14 across New York State.
Even though much of the state is currently blanketed in snow, warming temperatures can quickly cause wildfire conditions to arise. Many areas, including in the Southeastern and Eastern Adirondacks, already have large areas devoid of snow.
Historically, open burning of debris is the largest single cause of spring wildfires in New York State. When temperatures are warmer and the past fall’s debris, dead grass, and leaves dry out, wildfires can start and spread easily and be further fueled by winds and a lack of green vegetation.
New York first enacted stricter restrictions on open burning in 2009 to help prevent wildfires and reduce air pollution. State regulations allow residential brush fires in towns with fewer than 20,000 residents during most of the year, but prohibit such burning in spring when most wildfires in New York occur. Since the ban was established, the eight-year annual average number of spring fires decreased by 42.6 percent, from 2,649 in 2009, to 1,521 in 2018, according to an announcement sent to the press by DEC.
Campfires using charcoal or untreated wood are allowed, but people should never leave such fires unattended and must extinguish them. Burning garbage or leaves is prohibited year-round.
Wildfires can be deadly and destructive, and the national annual cost of their consequences can range anywhere from $71.1 to $347.8 billion, according to recent study by the U.S. Department of Commerce. Last year’s Camp Fire in northern California destroyed the city of Paradise and killed more than 80 people, making it the nation’s deadliest wildfire in more than a century. This year, the USDA Forest Service, the National Association of State Foresters, and the Ad Council are celebrating the 75th anniversary of the launch of the Smokey Bear Wildfire Prevention campaign, the longest-running public service advertising campaign in U.S. history.
Some towns, including most of those in in and around the Adirondack and Catskill Parks, are designated “fire towns.” 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 on DEC’s website.
Violators of the state’s open burning regulation are subject to both criminal and civil enforcement actions, with a minimum fine of $500 for a first offense. To report environmental law violations call 1-800-TIPP DEC (1-800-847-7332), or report online on DEC’s website.
Map of Wildfires per Square Mile 2003-2017 courtesy DEC.
Fire is useful tool when used with appropriate knowledge and caution. Fire can reduce biomass that otherwise can dramatically fuel unplanned fires to an out of control condition. Prescribed burns in forest lands as well as grasslands are effective management tools.
The role of naturally caused fires (lightning) in wilderness areas was an important part of the Bolle Report (University of Montana) which advocated letting fires burn. That committee of experts saw fire playing a positive natural role in the progression of healthy communities especially in western forest lands. Potash has always functioned to aid burned areas during the natural evolution of plants, shrubs and tree regrowth.
The role of natural fires in areas of the Adirondacks with poor soil site indexes may not be warranted, but where soils are sufficiently robust, in structured layers, forest management schemes. Conservative methods to allow certain fires to continue burning might be part of future Unit Management Plans.