Wildfire Conditions Intensify Across New York

Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) Commissioner Basil Seggos today urged New Yorkers to obey the statewide burn ban as conditions for wildfires have become heightened across most of the state Wednesday, with temperatures and winds increasing. DEC upgraded the fire danger map today as a combination of increasing temperatures, strong gusty winds, and low relative humidity were forecasted. DEC posts daily a fire danger rating map and forecast during fire season on its website and on the NY Fishing, Hunting & Wildlife App available on DEC’s website. Currently, wildfire conditions are high risk in the southern and eastern parts of the state.

“Dry weather, warming temperatures, and strong winds today have elevated the risk of fires across much of the state,” Commissioner Seggos said. “Please heed the statewide ban and do not burn any brush or yard debris, both now and over the next several weeks as conditions for wildfire outbreaks likely increase.”

In addition, the National Weather Service today issued a red flag warning for the Southern Tier to the Catskills. A red flag warning is a short-term, temporary warning indicating the presence of a dangerous combination of temperature, wind, relative humidity, fuel, or drought conditions which can contribute to new fires or the rapid spread of existing fires.

Residential brush burning is prohibited March 16 through May 14 across New York State. New York prohibits residential burning during the high-risk fire season to reduce wildfires and protect people, property, and natural resources. The ban has been extremely effective in reducing the number of wildfires, and DEC is encouraging New Yorkers to put safety first. 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 strict 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.

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.

Some towns, primarily 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.