Officials: Outdoor fires prohibited

T he calendar may have officially turned to spring, and while the nice weather has some people thinking of clearing brush or enjoying a family get-together around the backyard campfire, local officials want to remind everyone that it is illegal to have outdoor fires.

All residential brush burning is prohibited during New York state’s historically high fire-risk period from March 16 through May 14.

“This time of year has the most risk of fires and the risk is even greater this year due to the extremely mild winter we’ve seen across the state,” said Joe Martens, commissioner of the state Department of Environmental Conservation, in a press release earlier this month.

Whitehall Police Chief Matt Dickinson said they’ve had several incidents of outdoor fires in the past week and DEC Region 5 environmental conservation officers have already issued more than a dozen tickets and warnings to people burning brush since the ban went into effect on March 16.

“They’ve been a problem lately,” Dickinson said.

Last Thursday, a large brush fire in West Haven, Vt., tied up firefighters from West Haven and Fair Haven, Vt., and Hampton, Whitehall and Fort Ann.

Smoke from the blaze could be seen from several miles away.

There were also reports of brush fires in Granville and Fort Ann and the Whitehall Police Department had to ask residents to put out fires on three separate occasions last week.

Outdoor fires can be particularly dangerous this time of year because of the speed with which they can spread.

Several factors enable wildfires to start easily and spread quickly at this time, including the lack of green vegetation, abundance of available fuels such as dry grass and leaves, warm temperatures and wind.

Open burning is the largest single cause of wildfires in New York State. Data from DEC’s Forest Protection Division show that debris burning accounted for about 36 percent of wildfires in the state between 1985 and 2009, which is more than twice the next most-cited cause. In addition, from 2000 to 2009 New York’s fire departments responded to an average of 2,300 wildfires each year from March 16 to May 14. That represents about 46 percent of all wildfires for the year.

Violators of the open burning state regulation are subject to both criminal and civil enforcement actions, with a minimum fine of $500 for a first offense.

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