Even though there is a statewide ban in effect on open burning, local fire departments are finding themselves busier than ever dousing errant flames in people’s backyards.
The state Department of Environmental Conservation’s ban runs March 15 to May 15, a historically high-risk period for fires. After May 15, open burning is allowed under certain conditions, such as for campfires and small cooking fires. In communities located within the Adirondack Park, people must obtain a permit before they can do any open burning.
The Fulton County Sheriff’s Office reports that at least three outdoor “fire emergencies” have occurred since the start of the open-burning ban. Schoharie and Montgomery counties also report a large number of brush fires. No injuries were reported, but there has been damage to a large amount of grass, brush and wood, authorities said.
“This time of year, people like to burn off dead grass, and the state has made that illegal,” said Fulton County Sheriff Thomas Lorey. “I do not think people in rural areas are aware of the law.”
Scot Hall, chief of the Broadalbin-Kennyetto Fire Department, said his department responded Wednesday night to a large bonfire on private property in the town.
“They were burning brush and logs,” Hall said. “They were not aware of the ban.”
Hall said the fire department told the property owners to douse the fire immediately or firefighters would. The property owners complied and the matter ended.
“The clear intent is the fire danger, because of how dry it is,” Hall said. The dry season started early this year because of the unseasonably warm weather, he said.
The DEC said brush burning is the most common cause of wildfires during the spring fire season. It said conditions in New York will allow wildfires to start easily and spread quickly due to the unusually warm temperatures, clear skies, low humidity, breezy winds, lack of snow and large amounts of dead, dry vegetation. 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.
State law allows Hall and other fire chiefs to issue citations for violating the open burning ban. But most of the time, Hall said he defers the matter to a park ranger. According to the DEC, violators are subject to both criminal and civil enforcement actions, with penalties ranging from $500 to $18,000 in fines and up to a year in jail for the first offense and up to $26,000 in fines and up to a year in jail for subsequent offenses.
Hall said he gets calls from people all the time asking permission to burn brush, logs and other debris. “I refer them to the DEC’s website. It has a lot of information,” he said.
Lorey said the DEC open burning law can be confusing and a bit extreme. “If you want to roast a marshmallow, the fire has to be a certain width and length,” he said.
The DEC website states that campfires can be no more than 3 feet in height and 4 feet in length, width or diameter.
Hall and Lorey said they do not regulate campfire sizes, leaving that duty to the state.
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Categories: Schenectady County