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Officials warn of wildfire risk ahead of New York state burn ban

New York State DEC Commissioner Basil Seggos speaks at the Albany Pine Bush Preserve
Lucas Willard
/
WAMC
New York State DEC Commissioner Basil Seggos speaks at the Albany Pine Bush Preserve

With the spring comes an increased risk of wildfires. New York state will begin enforcing its annual burn ban.

“Well good morning, everybody! My name is Basil Seggos...”

New York State Department of Environmental Conservation Commissioner Basil Seggos appeared at the Albany Pine Bush Preserve to ask state residents to be aware of the state’s annual burn ban.

The ban, which runs Saturday through May 14th, restricts residents from open burning. Seggos said while some fires are allowed – such as small cooking fires or barbeque grilling – he wants New Yorkers to act responsibly.

“Be smart about fires, right? Be smart about backyard fires, be smart about your campfires. Also, if you smoke, maybe think twice about throwing a butt into the grass this time of year, as well. Just a commonsense precaution,” said Seggos.

Seggos, joined by DEC forest rangers, spoke under a clear blue sky with a light breeze, surrounded by dry grass.

“You can see you know, there’s lots of dry brush everywhere, to the extent the sun’s shining on it. We got some wind blowing in through it, as well. I mean, that is the right conditions for some fires to spread,” said Seggos.

It was a mild, drier winter with a lack of snow across much of New York, and DEC Forest Ranger Captain Scott Jackson said the agency has already responded to several fires.

“Rangers have responded to nine fires so far this year, and a total of around a little over 70 acres. I know the local fire departments have responded to many more beyond that,” said Jackson.

The Albany Pine Bush Preserve itself is a unique ecosystem. Staff at the Preserve Commission use prescribed burns to not only manage habitat, but also to reduce the risk of an out-of-control fire in an area surrounded by suburban homes. Neil Gifford is the Albany Pine Bush Preserve Commission’s Conservation Director…

“One of the many reasons why we use prescribed fire here is to reduce wildfire risk. It's all about keeping the fuel loads low. But yeah, when you have low winds like this at this time of year before things green up, the grasses and leaf litter are very dry and easily ignite,” said Gifford.

In fact, conditions allowed staff at the preserve to conduct their earliest prescribed burn ever in February.

Commissioner Seggos reminded New Yorkers that burn ban violators can face consequences.

“This ban is enforceable,” said Seggos. “It's enforceable by law enforcement. Certainly, $500 for the first offense and our DEC teams will be patrolling the state looking for fires over the next few weeks.”

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Lucas Willard is a reporter and host at WAMC Northeast Public Radio, which he joined in 2011.