At a glance
Violators of the state burn ban are subject to criminal and civil enforcement actions, with a minimum fine of $500 for a first offense.
To report a violation, call 1-800-TIPP DEC, or 1-800-847-7332.
So far this year, there have been nine wildfires in Montgomery County, the majority of them caused by campfires and fire pits that weren’t fully extinguished, according to Montgomery County Fire Coordinator Dale Furman.
Last week, a number of departments responded to a wildfire in Charleston State Forest that managed to burn itself out, though a few lingering hot spots required attention.
“Some areas were still burning because of the depth of the foliage and the pine needles,” Furman said.
Spring is New York state’s high-fire-risk period, and the state Department of Conservation recently warned that the danger of wildfires is high as a result of the continuing dry weather.
Though some relief is expected in the Capital Region on Wednesday, when rain is forecast, county fire commissioners said conditions remain dry, and that people should observe the state’s ban on brush burning, which runs from March 16 through May 14.
Spring wildfires are typically caused by lack of green vegetation, an abundance of dry grass and leaves that serve as fuel, warm temperatures and wind.
According to the DEC, the conditions that contribute to the spread of wildfires — sunny weather and low relative humidity — are likely to continue and dry things out even more.
In 2009, the state imposed an annual ban on spring brush burning to cut down on wildfires and the release of dangerous pollutants, such as arsenic, carbon monoxide and lead. Since then, spring wildfires in New York have dropped significantly — about 50 percent during the period when the ban is in effect, according to Col. Andrew T. Jacob at the DEC’s Rangers & Emergency Management Unit.
Open burning is the largest single cause of wildfires in New York, according to the DEC.
Furman said there are still a lot of people who are unaware of the spring burn ban.
“Every fire department has a sign saying there’s no open burning, but a lot of people say they don’t know about the ban when we talk to them,” he said.
Allan Polmateer, the fire coordinator for Fulton County, said that the risk of wildfires is “not that bad” because March and April were both wet months. But he added that dry grasses, leaves and twigs are plentiful, and that “people have to be careful” and observe the burn ban.
“There’s been a few fires [in Fulton County] but it hasn’t been that bad,” he said. “We just have to be ready.”
Edward Tremblay, the fire coordinator for Saratoga County, said there have been quite a few brush fires so far this year in Saratoga County. “Some are caused by people burning, by sparks that get out of control,” he said.
Tremblay described the weather conditions as perfect for wildfires. “There’s lower humidity, a breeze,” he said. He added that the lack of snow cover during the winter has contributed to the dryness. “Snow helps keep things wet,” he said.
This year’s wildfires have not been especially big. According to the DEC’s Jacob, only four of the state’s wildfires in 2013 have been over 10 acres. None of them were in the Capital Region.
Data from the agency’s Division of Forest Protection indicate that the burning of debris accounted for about 36 percent of wildfires in the state between 1985 and 2009, and that from 2000 to 2009 New York’s fire departments responded to an average of 2,300 wildfires each year between March 16 and May 14 — about 46 percent of all wildfires for the year.
The state’s open burning restrictions extend to people who live in towns with a population of less than 20,000, where residential brush burning is permitted for most of the year.
The state also prohibits the burning of garbage at all times and in all places, as well as the burning of leaves.