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Shawangunk Ridge Fire Hits Day Four

WAMC, Allison Dunne

The wildfire that has scorched more than 2,400 acres in a state forest in Sullivan and Ulster Counties could be almost fully contained by tonight. However, a state official says responders will be paying close attention over the next few days—the weather forecast is looking favorable for more fires.

Firefighting efforts at Shawangunk Ridge State Forest continued for a fourth day Wednesday. Jim Hay is spokesman for the New York State Incident Management Team. He says the fire that began in Sullivan County Sunday and spread to Ulster County was 76 percent contained as of Wednesday morning, a percentage he said would likely improve greatly by the night.

“Hopefully very close to 100 percent contained by probably 8 o’clock tonight.”

He says firefighters were doing burn backs, or controlled burning to get rid of debris that could catch fire, and creating containment areas. Light rain and lower temperatures Tuesday night into Wednesday morning provided a small amount of relief, but favorable fire conditions are forecast for the days ahead.

“The weather to some degree helped us, but we’re concerned that tomorrow and Friday and possibly Saturday those weather conditions that helped start, keep the fire going are going to come back. And we just don’t want complacency to take over,” Hay says. “We need to make sure that everybody, especially the residents and the firefighters are aware that while today might be somewhat of a down day, the next couple of days those conditions are going to come back.”

In addition to the deployment of state resources, Hay says surrounding counties have been assisting.

“We have, Greene County has resources here, Orange County, Broome County, Schoharie County, Delaware County,” says Hay. “New York State Department of Transportation still has assets here, the heavy equipment.”

Credit WAMC, Allison Dunne

Handmade signs dot the front lawns of local communities, reading “Thank you firefighters.” Many of the signs are within 10 miles of a command center set up Tuesday at the Kimble Hose Fire Company in Ellenville, in Ulster County. Hay says the state will maintain a presence likely through the weekend, but scale back.

“The goal is once the perimeter or the containment goes to 100 percent and we’re sure that most of the debris, those fire lines and the burn backs, are sufficient enough to make sure that the fire can’t get any more headway from any area that it’s not in, it’ll go back to the local jurisdictions,” says Hay.

Meanwhile, U.S. Senator Charles Schumer is urging the Federal Emergency Management Agency to be ready to expedite approval for fire management assistance grants to help reimburse Hudson Valley communities for their firefighting efforts at Shawangunk Ridge.

“And so I called this morning Administrator Hatfield, who’s the head of FEMA,  to ask him to get ready for a state request for fire aid,” says Schumer. “And he said he’d be ready and waiting.”

Hay says the fire had endangered more than 90 structures, but none were affected. He says two local firefighters suffered minor injuries at the beginning of the firefighting efforts.

And Westchester County Executive Rob Astorino Wednesday announced a ban on open fires at all county parks as a result of the increased risk of fire caused by recent dry conditions. Astorino reminds residents that charcoal and propane fires will be permitted only for cooking in permanently fixed grills in the parks during the ban. He says the Parks Department will continue to monitor conditions daily and reevaluate the ban if there is any significant rainfall.

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