ALBANY – Governor Andrew M. Cuomo urged New Yorkers to take steps to prevent wildfires as high temperatures are expected this spring.
Recently, firefighters responded to numerous reports of brush fires in Albany, Allegany, Cattaraugus, Essex, Herkimer, Orange and Saratoga counties. A statewide ban on open burning is in place through May 14 as brush fires occur frequently this time of year due to dry grass. The Governor is also urging extra caution across the eastern part of the state as there is potential for wildfire conditions through 8 a.m. Tuesday morning.
“The residential brush burning ban in effect until mid-May will help protect the health and well-being of both New Yorkers and first responders, as warm weather conditions are expected this spring,” Governor Cuomo said. “I urge New Yorkers to be proactive and prepare for dry weather by taking steps to protect loved ones and property from the dangers of wildfires, and to ensure the safety of communities across the state.”
According to the National Weather Service, New York can expect above average temperatures through the end of June that could increase the likelihood of conditions for wildfires to start and quickly spread. Currently, most of the state has a moderate fire danger rating. However, with the onset of warmer temperatures, the state’s fire danger risk will likely increase. For more information on fire risks, visit the state’s fire danger map, which is updated by DEC daily.
Of New York’s 30.9 million acres, 18.9 million is forested land that are at risk for wildfires. There is also a vast amount of open-space, non-forested lands with significant wildfire potential.
More than 1,700 fire departments across the state respond to an average of 5,300 wildfires each year. In 2016, DEC Forest Rangers extinguished 185 wildfires that burned a total of 4,191 acres.
DEC Commissioner Basil Seggos said, “Our Forest Rangers have already been busy battling wildfires across the state, and many of these events are preventable. We rely on our municipal firefighters and the public to be our partners in protecting our natural resources and communities from wildfire damage and ask for their help in containing and preventing wildfires.”
New York State Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Services Commissioner John P. Melville said, “Until spring arrives in earnest and conditions turn green, this is the time of year that the state experiences a high number of brush fires. If you see a fire, immediately report it to your local fire department so that firefighters can quickly respond to put the fire out. Do not assume that someone else has already reported the fire. Take immediate action by calling 911.”
Burn Ban is in Effect Through May 14
Open burning is the single greatest cause of wildfires in New York. When temperatures increase and the past fall’s debris and leaves dry out, wildfires can start and spread easily and be further fueled by winds and a lack of green vegetation. Also, burning leaves and grass is banned in New York State year-round. DEC encourages New Yorkers to compost leaves.
To prevent wildfires, all open burning is prohibited in New York from March 16 through May 14 with a few exceptions, including:
- Campfires less than 3 feet in height and 4 feet in length, width or diameter are allowed.
- Small cooking fires are allowed.
- Fires cannot be left unattended and must be fully extinguished.
- Only charcoal or clean, untreated or unpainted wood can be burned.
- Ceremonial or celebratory bonfires are allowed.
Wildfire Safety Tips
Wildfires often spread quickly, putting New Yorkers, their families, their properties, and their businesses in danger. However, there are many ways to prepare yourself and your home for such emergencies.
Prepare Yourself and Plan Ahead
Make a family emergency plan and practice escape routes away from your home, by car and by foot. Visit the Citizen Preparedness Corps website for steps that families can take to create a household plan that includes protecting children, pets and preparing a go kit. New Yorkers should have some basic supplies on hand in the event of a disaster or emergency.
Install smoke alarms on each floor of your home and change the batteries twice per year when you change your clocks for daylight savings time. Keep fire extinguishers in your home, and teach every member of the family how to use them. Teach children about fire safety and keep matches and lighters out of reach. Store emergency phone numbers and information in the cell phones of each of the members of your family. New Yorkers are also encouraged to sign up for NY-Alert at nyalert.gov, which will send a notification about red flag warnings or conditions.
Precautions to Take:
- Make Home Address Visible: Make sure the number of your home address is clearly visible on your house so that emergency personnel can find it from the road, and ensure that fire vehicles can access your home easily.
- List Your Belongings: Review your homeowner’s insurance policy and make a list of the contents of your home.
- Help Your Neighbors: Talk to your neighbors about wildfire safety, and consider how you could help neighbors with special needs.
Prepare Your Property:
- Inspect your home’s exterior at least once a year, and make outdoor spring cleaning a habit. Remove all dry grass, brush, and dead leaves within 30 feet of your home. Space trees and shrubs at least ten feet apart. Reduce the number of trees in heavily wooded areas, get rid of old tree stumps, and remove any vines growing on the side of your home.
- Mow your lawn regularly.
- Stack firewood and scrap wood piles away from any buildings and clear away flammable vegetation close to the piles.
- Clean chimneys and stove pipes, and check their screens.
- Avoid letting flammable materials like rags and newspapers accumulate near buildings or utilities.
- Prune the lower branches of tall trees to within six feet of the ground to keep surface fires from spreading into tree tops.
- Clear pine needles, leaves, or other debris from your roof and gutters. Remove tree limbs or dead branches hanging over your roof, and ask your power company to clear branches from power lines.
- Keep a hose attached to a working outside faucet that can be used to put out a small fire on or around your home when temperatures are above freezing.
Prevent Wildfires From Occurring:
- Follow local burning laws. Open burning is the single greatest cause of wildfires across New York State. Familiarize yourself with DEC’s open burning regulations.
- Contact your local fire department for further information on fire laws.
- Report hazardous conditions that could cause a wildfire.
- Check on local restrictions on campfires if you are planning to go camping or spend time in the woods. Don’t leave a campfire unattended, and make sure the fire is completely out before leaving it.
- Dispose of smoking materials and matches properly.
- Take extra care in dry grass. Don’t park or idle your vehicle on it, and don’t set hot gas-powered equipment in it.
Know What To Do When A Wildfire Occurs:
- Call 9-1-1 if you see a wildfire. Don’t assume somebody else has called the fire department, and do not panic. Describe the location of the fire, speak slowly and clearly, and answer any questions from the dispatcher.
- Establish lines of communication with local authorities and fire departments. Follow your local emergency personnel on Facebook and Twitter, and know how to reach them via phone and in person.
- Wear protective clothing and footwear.
Prepare for evacuation:
- Shut off natural gas, propane, and fuel oil supplies at the source.
- Remove firewood, fuel, and debris from your yard.
- Close windows and doors in your home.
- If you are evacuating by car, include your go-kit and mementos. If evacuation is imminent, put your pets in the car and be ready to leave quickly.
- Turn on outside lights to make the house more visible in heavy smoke.
Terms to Know:
- Surface Fire: fire that spreads via leaf litter and low-level vegetation, like bushes
- Crown Fire: fire that “crowns,” or spreads to the top branches of trees, and can spread at an incredible pace through the top of a forest
- Jumping Fire: burning branches and leaves carried by wind sometimes start distant fires; fire can “jump” over roads and rivers
- Fire Weather Alert: a watch issued by the U.S. National Weather Service to alert authorities that Red Flag conditions may develop
- Red Flag Warning: a warning issued by the U.S. National Weather Service to indicate that a fire would spread rapidly if it broke out due to low humidity, high winds, and low moisture.