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Officials Warn Of High Fire Danger Across Region

Vermont Division of Fire Safety

It is spring, but green-up is not complete and until it is, leaf litter and duff scattered across lawns and forests are volatile kindling for fires.  WAMC’s North Country Bureau Chief Pat Bradley looks at the fire danger across the region, which has already seen massive burns in Sullivan and Berkshire Counties.

Officials in Vermont are warning residents to take steps to prevent brushfires as the landscape dries out from the winter.  Numerous fires were reported Monday across the Green Mountain State and in Sullivan County, New York brushfires kept some people from their homes. 
While there are no current fires in the Green Mountain or Finger Lakes National Forests, regional Spokesman Ethan Ready says they are joining officials in cautioning the public that conditions are such that people should not burn brush.   "Mid to late spring is considered the peak fire season here in Vermont with about 75 percent of all fires during a given year typically occurring in April and May."  
Since Saturday there have been 25 new reports of wildfires in Vermont prompting the Vermont Department of Forests, Parks, and Recreation on Tuesday afternoon to issue an order that all state forest fire wardens must cease issuing burning permits through May 19th.  The ban may be revoked or extended based upon weather conditions.
In New York, a burn ban has been in place.
New York State Association of Fire Chiefs CEO and Executive Director Jerry DeLuca says the conditions are ripe for brush and forest fires due to dry underbrush and high winds.   "There’s a burn ban in effect until May 15th each year in New York State because of the potential for forest fire, because of the dry underbrush and grass. People don't realize that even though we had a very wet winter and a lot of heavy snow, if you look out you'll see dead leaves on the ground. Dead grass still. And that spreads forest fires very quickly. If you think about it we have not had much rain in the last several weeks.  Even though the ground underneath is still wet, but the top part is very dry. Once those dead leaves that have been sitting there all winter start to burn it spreads very quickly." 
Vermont Department of Forest Parks and Recreation Forestry Specialist and State Fire Weather Coordinator Tess Greaves says there have been about 50 brush fires this spring, most occurring since this weekend. On Monday alone she reports there were between 10 to 15 brushfires in Vermont including 50 acres in Brattleboro and 25 acres in Norwich.  "Most of the time, statistics wise, debris burning is our number one cause cause of fire. So that's people that are cleaning up their yards this time of year, that are taking risks with fire that usually help fires get started.  Some of them are accidental. People are the biggest cause of fires." 
The forecast for the near future calls for minimal precipitation. 
Most of New York State is in High Fire Danger, which indicates the fuels prior to spring green-up are volatile. National Weather Service Burlington Warning Coordination Meteorologist Scott Whittier expects the current conditions to continue until the end of the week.  "As we get into the weekend I think the pattern’s going to change just a little bit and we may get a couple stalled frontal boundaries approach our area for the weekend. What that means is we'll have periodic chances of showers and rainfall maybe on the weekend or early into next week. That's really what we need right now. We need a somewhat prolonged period of some decent rainfall, say an inch of rainfall or more, to really saturate the fuels so they are no longer as dry as they are and to get that green-up process to take place across the area." 
Resources for additional information: 
Vermont Forests, Park and Recreation: http://fpr.vermont.gov/forest/fires/monitoring or @VTFireDanger on Twitter
Green Mountain National Forest: http://www.fs.usda.gov/greenmountain
National Weather Service: http://www.weather.gov/burlington or Facebook https://www.facebook.com/NWSBurlington or @NWSBurlington on Twitter