As temperatures begin to rise and snow starts to melt, New York state officials are reminding the public that a statewide ban on burning brush will go into effect next week. The annual ban, which is aimed at preventing spring wildfires, will prohibit residential brush burning from March 16 through May 14.
According to the state Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC), open burning of debris is the largest cause of spring wildfires in the state. As the previous fall’s debris and leaves dry out and temperatures warm up, wildfires can easily ignite and spread, fueled by winds and lack of green vegetation.
The DEC Forest Rangers have to extinguish dozens of wildfires that burn hundreds of acres each year, while local fire departments, many of which are staffed by volunteers, have to respond to wildfires caused by illegal debris fires, leaving their jobs and families behind.
In a news release, DEC Commissioner Basil Seggos emphasized the importance of safety and protecting communities, natural resources, and firefighters who put out fires. He said, “We’re encouraging all New Yorkers to think about safety first, before starting a potentially dangerous fire.”
The state first imposed strict restrictions on open burning in 2009 to reduce air pollution and prevent wildfires. Although the regulations allow residential brush fires in towns with fewer than 20,000 residents during most of the year, they prohibit such burning in spring when most wildfires occur. Backyard fire pits, campfires less than three feet in height and four feet in length, width, or diameter, and small cooking fires are still allowed, but only dry, clean, untreated, or unpainted wood and charcoal can be burned. It’s crucial to never leave these fires unattended and to extinguish them before leaving.
Forest Rangers, DEC Environmental Conservation Police Officers, and local authorities enforce the burn ban, and violators are subject to criminal and civil enforcement actions, with a minimum fine of $500 for a first offense. Anyone who witnesses environmental law violations can report them by calling (844) 332-3267.
As the spring season approaches, it’s essential to keep the environment and communities safe by following these regulations and being mindful of potential wildfire hazards.
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