A burn ban went into effect this week across New York. In addition, the state Department of Environmental Conservation is advising residents to enjoy the outdoors, but continue to practice social distancing.
DEC Commissioner Basil Seggos says the burn ban that ends May 14 comes during the time for the highest fire dangers.
“All residential fires outside are prohibited,” says Seggos.
Seggos says DEC staff will enforce the ban.
“Violations of this, $500,” Seggos says.
“The burn ban works,” Seggos says. “Every year since we’ve had the burn ban in place since 2009, we’ve seen a 42 percent drop in wildfires around the state.”
Seggos was in Putnam County last week to advertise the ban.
“Why is this important, in particular, this year? First, it’s been a very mild winter, a very warm spring or very warm, late winter so far, lots of dry vegetation on the ground. So again, the conditions are unfortunately very ripe for wildfires to spring up around the state,” Seggos says. “Second, with every wildfire that DEC and our partners at State Police and Parks are called into, every single one of those fires diverts our personnel away from their very important mission to protect New Yorkers. And we are, right now, of course, in the middle of a public health emergency.”
Seggos was at Little Stony Point in Cold Spring, which days earlier had been the staging area for a fire on Breakneck Ridge. Nicole Wooten is Hudson Highlands Land Trust Natural Resources Manager:
“The fire started from sparks from a Metro-North train and then spread up the mountain. The containment area for the fire is approximately 300 acres. Not all of that 300 acres burned,” says Wooten. “he fire sort of spread based on the winds and rock faces that were sheltering certain areas, etcetera.”
She says any fallen trees and debris were removed from the trails, which reopened March 14. Wooten says some trail markers melted during the fire, and New York-New Jersey Trail Conference staff and volunteers are tending to this. And amid the pandemic, trail traffic has increased.
“People need to get outside. They need that mental health break and relaxation. So we have seen a surge in trail usage ever since the coronavirus really hit New York. So, people are encouraged to use the trail, and Breakneck Ridge trails are ready for use,” Wooten says. “However, all the CDC guidelines should be followed, so we really encourage folks to go out individually, to keep their distance. And they may want to think about bringing their own maps from Avenza maps online or bring their own paper copies.”
Wooten says fire is not always a bad thing for the area that was ablaze.
“This area is used to fires. It’s actually a fire-dependent ecological community. There are parts of Breakneck Ridge that are what’s known as pitch pine-oak-heath rocky summit. So all of those species are used to every 5-25 years naturally having moderate intensity fires,” Wooten says. “So this fire actually was not damaging to the ecological communities in any great way. It did happen at a strange time of year because we normally see snowmelt and weather conditions, so it was a lot drier than usual. That may have negatively affected some of the migrating amphibian communities. But, for the most part, this forest is used to fire. It needs fire. There are species like pitch pine that are what’s called serotinous, which means their cones are covered in a resin that is fire-melted; they need the fire in order to open the cones and release the seeds. So the fire can actually be restorative in some ways and regenerative. So we are looking forward to seeing resprouting on there within the next few weeks.”
Seggos mentions high-risk fire areas, including the Highlands.
“The Highlands in this area are fire prone by their very nature, same with, across the river, in the Catskills and the Minnewaska area; again, a fire-prone environment.”
“There’s also high-risk areas in the Albany area, the Pine Bush, and in northern New York, Clinton County,” Seggos says.